Today I was planning to write about Derbyshire novels and the Christmas Week Short Story Challenge, but when I read Michaeline’s excellent post yesterday, about the research she’s doing for her Gilded Age historical, it made me think about my own book, and how many weird and wonderful things I’ve had to learn in order to write it. Of course, if you’re writing historicals, it stands to reason you’d want to read books and books first, to immerse yourself in the time period before you put finger to keyboard (here’s a post by Justine with just a few of her favorite research titles). It’s different for me. I’m writing a contemporary, set in a city I know well (London) and another place I’ve visited frequently (the Scottish Highlands). I never dreamed I’d have to spend so much time fact-checking.
Thank goodness for the interwebs. I lose count of how many times a day I want my characters to do something, and then I have to ask – is that possible? I don’t search for things to copy, I look for hard facts that will validate scenes I have already created in my head. Nothing in my book is real, but I want to be sure it could have been.
I just spent a happy half an hour browsing through my bookmarks. Here are a handful of the many questions I’ve asked myself this year, and some sites that helped me to decide whether to go further down a particular track:
Is there such a thing as an artists’ community? If so, where are they, and how do they typically work?
Answer? Wowzers, there are so many. Check out the Alliance of Artists’ Communities website that has links to more than 1,500 programs worldwide and lots of good advice for artists seeking a residency. None of them is at all like the community in my story, but they are so diverse that it made me confident there could be one, which gave me the confidence to go ahead and give my imagination full rein.
Could a gentle, arty man who wants to withdraw from the world undertake a pilgrimage to a remote, holy place like Mount Athos. and might he be able to stay as a lay brother with a view to eventually taking his vows? What might his life be like?
Answer? Yes, absolutely he could. Click here to learn more about Mount Athos, the oldest surviving monastic community in the world. Spectacularly beautiful. And, unfortunately for my heroine, Rose, women are not allowed to go there.
Do humungous, historic diamonds ever come up for sale on the open market, what do they look like, how much do they cost, and are they ever bought by private individuals?
I was very happy to discover that one of the world’s oldest and most famous diamonds, the Beau Sancy, sold for $9.7 million dollars (twice its reserve) at auction in Geneva in 2012. It’s very big and very, very sparkly. Nobody knows who bought it. Check out the story of the Beau Sancy here.
How much could a single photograph by a famous photographer possibly sell for, and what might it look like?
The answer (yay!) is that a million dollars doesn’t go very far these days 🙂 and there are a variety of photographers and styles to choose from if you have a few mill to invest. Have a look at the 15 Most Expensive Photos Ever Sold.
Are there small, exquisite former private residences in London that could be hired as the venue for a charity auction?
Oh, yeah, you betcha. Have a look at the stunning Leighton House Museum, in exclusive Holland Park. It’s the former home of the Victorian artist Frederic, Lord Leighton. It’s the only purpose-built studio house open to the public in the UK. Or check out Two, Temple Place – an extraordinary late Victorian neo-Gothic mansion built at Embankment in the heart of the city by William Waldorf Astor. It’s like a mini castle – stone crenellations outside, spectacular carved wood inside. No wonder they borrowed it for the grand finale of Downton Abbey. Take the virtual tour, and prepare to be blown away.
I could go on for pages about need-to-know information on kilts, Scottish names, antique sailing yachts, the history of pink diamonds, Edwardian jewelry styles, Art Deco Artifacts, enameling techniques, symbols of love from around the world, the list is (almost) endless, but you get the idea. And that’s just for this book. I have a whole other collection of links, press cuttings, notes and objects already tucked away for stories that are clamoring to be written.
How about you? What’s the most fun or fascinating research you’ve ever done, for school or a book or just because?