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Thursday, 23 August 2012

Bippity Boppety Blog Hop - Researching The Lady's Slipper


This Giveaway is now CLOSED. And I asked my husband to choose two numbers between 1 and 39 and the lucky winners are: Margaret (Literary Chanteuse) and Anme. I'll be writing to you both for a postal address. Big Thank you to everyone who entered and took the time to comment

In honour of the Bippity Boppety Blog Hop, I am offering two signed copies of The Lady's Slipper worldwide, just leave a comment about my post to enter. Don't forget to add an email address.New followers are welcome.
Here is the US edition of the book, on sale next to Gulliver's Travels, sadly I am no relation to the famous Jonathan Swift.















Research and Historical Fiction 
 Many people have asked me about how I do my research and how much time it takes to write a historical novel. So in this post I will take a little about my process, and also tell you about some of the some of the books I found invaluable in my research for The Lady’s Slipper.

My approach was not to try to know everything, but to read some general books on the 17th Century to get a broad picture, and then to start to write the book, filling in the gaps in my knowledge later. I keep a large notebook which is full of questions, for example, “How much was a loaf of bread in 1660?” “In a small village would there have been a bakery, or did people bake at home?” “What sort of bread? Millet? Wheat? Rye?” The answer to the last question was that in Westmorland where the book is set bread was called “clapbread” and was a flat cake made of oats, and it would keep for nearly a month! They had special oak cupboards built into their cottages to keep it in over winter –  frequently the answers are not what you expect but even more interesting. 

So after getting the overview I write my story, but I am left with a bulging and quite daunting note book full of questions. I take a deep breath, start at the beginning again and find out the answers and facts and decide if they help or hinder the story. I think I enjoy the “detective” element of finding out the answers to obscure questions! I read a lot of non-fiction and I am eternally grateful to the “real” historians who supply me with the answers. Books such as The Weaker Vessel by Antonia Fraser which gives a record of women’s lives in the Civil War in their own voices, and Restoration London by Liza Picard which was indispensable for information about daily life. Another favourite was Birth, Marriage and Death by David Cressy, which was always on my desk.


When I began writing The Lady’s Slipper I had no idea that my characters were going to end up on a ship, and of course I knew nothing at all about sailing ships, not even modern ones. No matter how many books I had read on the 17th century beforehand, it was unlikely I would have found out what I needed to know about Dutch Flute sailing ships without doing some very specific research. So I forced myself to read Patrick O’Brian’s books which are all set at sea, and what he doesn’t know about tall ships would probably fit on a postage stamp. They are the sort of historical fiction I would never normally pick up, but they are excellent. I also found out by emailing The Maritime Museum that the cow was stabled “aft”, and that foodstuffs were often sealed in dried mud to keep them fresh on board.
Wonderful Levens Hall, near where I live, on which I based Fisk Manor

To write about people’s homes I spent time at a number of old houses including Levens Hall, which helped me to create Fisk Manor, the home of Geoffrey Fisk in the novel. There is nothing like walking down a 17th century staircase and feeling the polished wooden banisters and seeing the light pour in through mullioned windows. At Swarthmoor Hall I sat and wrote a scene at a gnarled and polished oak table where George Fox the Quaker leader may have sat when he lived there with Margaret Fell. After such an immersion in the past it feels very strange then to get in my car and zoom away!

The botanical facts about the orchid I researched through interviewing members of the Cypripedium Committee, a sort of plant mafia set up to protect the Lady’s Slipper. They meet behind closed doors and the location of the last remaining plant in Britain is a closely guarded secret even today. The single-minded enthusiasm of these men, and their dedication to preserving the plant for future generations gave me confidence in my heroine, Alice Ibbetson’s obsession with it. But I also read novels such as The Orchid Thief and Tulip Fever, which treat similar themes. 

Being a costume designer I could not resist the Northampton Shoe Museum where there are many shoes on display. In The Lady’s Slipper Ella the maid is envious of her mistress’s slippers.Ella's story is told in The Gilded Lily, out in a few weeks time.

Often the research throws up new plotlines and then I will re-write scenes or chunks of the book to incorporate little-known or exciting research. I think to write historical fiction you have to enjoy this aspect of it because you are going to do an awful lot of it. When people ask me how long it takes to research the novel they are thinking in terms of a finite time, but actually I am researching all the time, my living room always has a pile of ten or twelve “current” books I am dipping into, not to mention photocopies and print-outs such as bits of the diaries of Pepys and George Fox and other helpful 17th century scribblers. Did I forget to mention the internet? The phone rings, and I half expect my husband to say, “Hang on, she’s googling.”

This post first appeared on Amy Bruno's site Passages to the Past. Thank you Amy. Amy is organising 
my Blog Tour for The Gilded Lily, find out more at http://www.hfvirtualbooktours.com/

Look to the right to grab the button for this blog hop!
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40 comments:

  1. I'd love to read The Lady's Slipper. Thanks for the giveaway!

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  2. September will be the month of my discovery of historical romance so this blog hop is really perfect for me. I'm really happy to have discovered you and i would be delighted to win a print copy of your book. thank you a lot for openingf your giveaway to international

    all the best

    isabelle(dot)frisch(at)gmail(dot)com

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  3. I've never thought of how much research someone has to do in order to write a historical fiction book. Loved your post!
    Thank you for the international giveaway :)
    milkristia(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  4. Thanks so much for the giveaway. I so love to read your book!

    Terri, niteofblu@gmail.com

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  5. I love reading about the research/writing process -- so exciting and daunting! I love the various threads of research you pursued -- sounds very fun (especially the sight seeing!). Thank you for the lovely giveaway!

    unabridgedchick at gmail.com

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  6. I'm always fascinated by how much research and time goes into an author writing a novel, as well as all the little differences each author seems to do along the way. Thanks for sharing and for the giveaway!!!

    candc320@gmail.com

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  7. Fascinating. Thanks for the peek into all of the effort.
    I would love to win your book as I had tried many times before. I hope Amy chooses my blog for the tour.
    kaiminani at gmail dot com

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  8. It is fascinating to know how you research for your books! Thanks for sharing and the giveaway!

    Vallisbookden AT gmail DOT com

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  9. Thanks for this giveaway. I always find myself riveted when historical novels take place on a ship because it can feel like a living, breathing piece of scenery. It is just a much more unique world that we don't get to regularly experience. Thanks for your thorough research

    dolleygurl[at]hotmail[dot]com

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  10. This sounds like a fantastic book, thanks for the chance to win it.
    mamabunny13 at gmail dot com

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  11. Wonderful post, sounds like a great book.

    readingwithmargaret at gmail.com

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  12. It's really interesting how much research is needed even for the slightest details but that is what makes the book even more wonderful.I would love to read The Lady's Slipper,thank you for the giveaway.

    darkenf(at)rocketmail(dot)com

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  13. With the amount of research that goes into one book, I can imagine you teaching a course on the subjects! The book sounds so good, I can't wait to read it!

    volta2173 at sbcglobal dot net

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  14. Thank you for giving insight into the research that goes into writing a historical fiction novel! As a reader, I appreciate the effort and I think it makes the book so much better! Thanks for this amazing giveaway! This book sounds great and I would love to win it!

    susanw28 (at) mindspring (dot) com

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  15. I have read good reviews of this one so I do want to read it :D I love good research

    booksforlife01 (at gmail dot com)

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  16. Thanks so much for the opportunity to win a copy of The Lady's Slipper! :)
    epkwrsmith@comcast.net
    http://epkwrsmith.blogspot.com

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  17. Wonder how many potential authors of historical fiction throw in the towel. Thanks for the chance to win.

    nanze55 at hotmail dot com

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  18. I would love to this! Thank you for the giveaway!

    Margaret
    singitm(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  19. Interesting insights into your writing! Thank you for the giveaway!

    readerrabbit22 at gmail.com

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  20. I will be delighted to get a chance to read your book. I read good reviews on it. It sounds most interesting.
    Thank you so much for opening the giveaway internationally.
    cyrano123(at)live(dot)fr

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  21. How interesting that they sealed foodstuffs in dried mud. I had never heard that before. And the society that keeps the Lady's Slipper hidden is so fascinating! Thank you for sharing this with us and also for the giveaway!

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    Replies
    1. I forgot to add my e-mail.
      leahweller(at)bellsouth(dot)net

      Delete
  22. Thank you for the excellent information. I'm currently working on a HF novel set in 14th century Italy so your advice really helps. A book I'm reading about writing said exactly what you did. Have a general idea and write...then go back and fill in the little details. Makes sense to me!

    Thanks for the chance in the giveaway!
    truebookaddictATgmailDOTcom

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  23. Sounds like fascinating read and sounds like you had an awesome time researching it.

    (\___/)
    (='.'=)
    (")_(")

    alterlisa AT yahoo DOT com

    http://lisaslovesbooksofcourse.blogspot.com/

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  24. It is very interesting to hear what goes into writing historical fiction. I think I would enjoy the historical detective work the most, sounds really intersting

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  25. It is fascinating all the research you put into the book - I bet you end up at places you would never expect! Thanks for sharing that little tidbit about food being sealed in mud about ship to help preserve it. Works for toads, why not rations?

    nrlymrtl [at] gmail [dot] com

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  26. Seeing the picture of the castle was neat. Thanks for the giveaway.

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  27. Thank you so much for the giveaway..Thank you for your post..

    ronnkelly3@aol.com

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  28. Thank you very much for giving us all the opp to read your work... what a pleasure!

    redcincibabe@yahoo.com

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  29. I would love to read this book.
    gardnerad@juno.com

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  30. thanks for sharing.

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  31. Good god I didn't realize how much work can go into researching a historical book. It seems that if you're not very inclined to academia, then writing historicals is a good way to keep learning and still get paid for it!
    Thank you for all of the weird little tid-bits, I never would have thought of using mud to store my foodstuffs, or that there would be a specific kind of cabinet keep certain foods. I honestly thought that most foods were kept in a cellar of some sort since they tend to be nice and cool year round.

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    Replies
    1. And I forgot my email... melorabrock (ay) gmail (dot) com

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  32. Your post is really interesting! I've always wondered at the amount of historical research authors have to do...

    I'd love to read your book, thanks for the giveaway, and for making it international !

    maric1993(at)gmail(dot)com

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  33. I would love to have the chance to read your book. As one historical fiction lover, I´m always amaze for the amount of research authors do while they're writing it. It's really fascinating how our minds work in order to place things back in time just while we read and all of that is thanks of all the hard work author do. Thank you so much for the giveaway!

    ilepachequin(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  34. Very nice post.

    bn100candg(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  35. I had no idea there was so much secrecy in protecting a flower. Sounds fascinating, on its own. Thanks for participating in the Hop!

    booklove at sawcatsverse dot com

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the chance to win some of these amazing books!
      ina_24@abv.bg

      Delete
  36. This is so interesting! thanks for the giveaway! I'd love to read this book :)
    by.evie at yahoo dot com dot br

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  37. Excellent post. I hope many people will get advantage from this post.Mark David.



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