I look up weird stuff
Research is a big part of writing historical fiction, especially if you value authenticity as much as I do. My background is in libraries, and archives and records management, so this is one of my most favorite parts about writing. Plus, it’s a neat way to feel like I’m being productive even if I’m not actually writing anything. In my upcoming release An Affectionate Heart there were three weird things that I had to research. Actually, there were a ton of things I researched, but I'll just highlight a few.
What does a particular type of cough sound like? I searched through nineteenth-century medical treatises and even contemporary WHO documents. But instead, I found a nineteenth century description of something even better: “When the second stage (of consumption) is fully established…it is not uncommon for (what is expectorated) to possess a peculiar sickening odour which when highly developed resembles that of a newly plastered room.” Gross! But terrific detail.
What does a rider do if their horse bolts? I read a lot of equestrian articles and poked around on a few horse-related forums. I learned that horses have personalities, like Darcy’s horse in An Affectionate Heart, and I had to learn why they bolt, how to make it realistic to have an accomplished rider with a trained horse who bolts, and what would that rider do to regain control. A reader of an early draft asked if I rode horses because what I described was exactly what you should do if your horse bolts in an open space. I’ve never ridden a horse in my life.
Since I feature jewelry in every full-length novel I write, I settled on something different: mourning jewelry. I have a book on Georgian jewelry that was helpful and I visited the blogs of antique jewelers and looked at museum collections of mourning jewelry. This was a time where portraits were a luxury, and to have something commemorative and personal was a powerful thing. I learned about the symbolism behind things like urns and willows, and that pearls often symbolized tears. I did decide against having anyone have a piece of jewelry made out of hair, though.
How much historical accuracy do you like in your hist fict? Did you ever come across something in a book and want to learn more about it?