Where Romance and History Meet - www.heartsthroughhistory.com/

Monday, May 10, 2010

Research left on the cutting room floor

Thanks to all of you for having me here today. I kicked off this blog tour for my May release, HIS BORDER BRIDE by “Chatting with Anna Katherine.” The post was called “You had to research what?” and it had such a good response, I thought I would share something similar with this group.
Because yes, I AM seduced by history and I know you are, too!
If you want to see Part I, go to http://annakathrynlanier.blogspot.com/ and scroll down to April 26. Sorry! Contest is over, but I'll give a copy of HIS BORDER BRIDE to a commenter to today's post.
As any writer knows, you must research far more than dates, the names of kings, and political and military history. In fact, those are usually the easiest things to find. But I use real people and events in my books, so I need a level of detail an ordinary history text doesn’t offer. So for this post, I’m focusing on the research I did around real characters and events. And this time, I’ll give you a peek at what I had to leave out because it didn’t contribute to my story.
The childhood of Lord Douglas. The Scottish border lord, William Douglas, later the first earl of Douglas (though not during my story!) was one of the most powerful men of his time. He was a secondary character I envisioned as rough and ready, and slightly uncouth, so I crafted a couple of scenes under that assumption. He did, after all, murder his uncle to assume leadership of the family. That didn’t seem the most civilized behavior.
Then, I discovered he had been fostered in France as a child. In fact, he was quite the Francophile, even fighting for the French at Poitiers when they were defeated, resoundingly, by the English. This called for a major rewrite of scenes and dialog and shifted his motivations and the conflict he represented for my heroine, who was also a Francophile.
What didn’t get in the book. The story goes that Douglas was responsible for the French defeat at Poitiers because he was the one who told them to fight on foot, a strategy that doomed them. Dozens of French nobles were killed or captured. Douglas was not. The chronicler writes that “when he perceived that the French were hopelessly defeated he made off as fast as he could; for so much did he dread being taken by the English…"
Edward III’s military campaigns. There’s no battle in my book, but my hero was conceived during Edward’s early Scottish campaign, accompanied Edward on the French campaign, and the book begins during the second Scottish campaign. The latter was so destructive that the Scots labeled it “Burnt Candlemas.” I needed to know what my hero had been through, where he was when the story opened, how long it would take him to get to the heroine’s lands, how the fighting continued for her father and the others on the Scots side…all that stuff. I discovered, for example, that Edward III brought falcons with him when he invaded France in 1356, a fact that tied in with the use of falconry as a key element in my story.
What didn’t get into the book. Edward III was very nearly captured during the Burnt Candlemas. William Douglas, yes, same as above, had planned an ambush, but at the last minute, the king took a small retinue for an unplanned meeting with Henry of Lancaster.
Where John of Eltham was buried and what his tomb looked like. 20 years after his death. This real life character was father to my fictional hero. There’s a pivotal scene in the book in which he stands before his father’s tomb. It’s key to his emotional climax and I wanted to see what he saw. Fortunately, out of print, out of copyright books and images exist, so I was even able to describe the sculpture of his father’s face. (That's a picture on the right. But if you go to Westminster Abbey today, it won't look like that. The canopy has since been destroyed.)
What didn’t get into the book. The tomb has a full effigy of John of Eltham, the last son of a king of England to die an earl, and he is wearing the earliest known example of a ducal coronet.
So, what about you? As writers, have you ever chased an obscure fact? And as readers, what details seem to really pull you into the world? I’ll give a copy of HIS BORDER BRIDE to one lucky commenter.
Thanks again for having me here. You can read an excerpt from HIS BORDER BRIDE, and more about the story, on my website, http://www.blythegifford.com/. I also love to have visitors at www.facebook.com/BlytheGifford.

Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ®and TM are trademarks of Harlequin Enterprises Limited and/or its affiliated companies, used under license. Copyright 2010


Blythe Gifford said...

Sorry the post date is wrong! I put this up the morning of May 11!

Paty Jager said...

It is amazing how much we research to make our characters come to life and how little of the hours we spend actually make it into the book.


s7anna said...

I'm always taken aback by the amount of details that authors put into their books...I can't even imagine the amount of research and work that goes into making a book truly extraordinary. As a reader and as someone who loves research, I really appreciate it when an author fully grasps the topic that she's writing of b/c it makes the story that much more realistic and natural.


Blythe Gifford said...

Thanks, Anna. It's good to know it is appreciated! Paty, somehow I tell myself that the information is there, subliminally, at least. For example, knowing that Douglas ran rather than being captured gave me an insight into his character, even if I never showed the actual event. (At least, that's my rationalization!)

Bernadette said...

I love your examples, Blythe! Especially love seeing how the tomb used to look, as I've seen it in its present state.

My latest manuscript, which is set during the US Civil War, involves a plot by a Yankee traitor to smuggle guns to the South. Only after I was well into it did I think to ask myself how the Union would have recognized that the South had Yankee-made guns it couldn't have secured by non-smuggling means - for example, through dealers in England. Imagine how thrilled I was to discover that Colt, who made the best pistols and repeating rifles of the period and was based in Connecticut, was an avowed Union man and refused to sell any of his guns - whether made in Connecticut or in England - to the South. He even changed his designs after the war began to make his guns manufactured during the war distinctive from those made pre-war. Voila! This also added a wonderful level of detail to the story, the kind of fact that - as you know because you do it so well - gives that aura of reality.

Bernadette said...

Oops. Forgot to leave my email addy. Circling back to close that loop. It's bhearne@triad.rr.com

Sally said...

I love the research part and it is disappointing when so much needs to be left out but the learning process is worth the effort.

librarypat said...

Thank you for such an interesting post. As a reader, I love little tidbits of history. I read historical fiction for the information as well as for the adventure and romance. I want as much accuracy as possible. You could add an appendix after the story with all the little details that were left out (similar to this post) and I'd be thrilled. Those little details you find in your research make the stories that much more real and enjoyable. I'd like to know about daily life, the art of falconry, the organization of a clan, how and why marriage contracts were made...and the list goes on.

Blythe Gifford said...

Bernadette - love your example. I do find that when I research, I often find unexpected answers to plot problems. Sally - glad you enjoy the results of the research. LibraryPat - I do include an author's afterword, but if I went into too much detail, I'd append an entire history book! My intention is to add that kind of information to my webpage. (Note to self!)

Caridad Pineiro said...

Love your examples, Blythe. It's amazing how much of the work you do doesn't end up in a book. So nice seeing you at RT!

Blythe Gifford said...

Thanks to all for stopping by. And congratulations to s7anna, who won a copy of HIS BORDER BRIDE!

Carol L. said...

As a reader I'm so greatful for all the research a writer does. I rad for the entertainment of the book and can always see how much a writer puts into his/her stories.Don't enter me in the contest for the book because fortunately for me Blythe I just won your book and am going to start reading it tonight. :)Lucky me. :)
Carol L.