Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Concerning 13th Century Research

The nice and controlled tone of my title is an attempt to begin and continue my post in a nice and controlled manner, with as little ranting and whining as possible. We shall see how that flies.

Also, a disclaimer: I am sure that all centuries and decades of historical fiction writing have their own downsides and frustration. However, as I am a Medieval historical fiction writer, I am, by unhappy chance, more aware of the issues involved therein. And now I’m talking way too fancy, thanks to my so controlled title. Just so you know that I’m aware that other historical fiction writing is probably just as hard or even harder when it comes to research than mine is, but I’m here to complain--er, explain--mine.

I find my first reason for ever dropping a book in my novel-writing “career” is, in some sick way, ironic. My first attempt at a book was called Lost in the Jungle, and I probably got about 1,000 to 2,000 words in before I realized all the research I would have to do to bring the story together. I was only 7 or 8 at the time. I found one book on our shelves and flipped through it some, trying to find a reason for my heroine being near a jungle/rainforest, and which one, and what it would be like, and what she could eat, and--

I decided to write fantasy instead.

Woe to me, however: fantasy doth not love me. I managed to grind out Betsy Flowain over the course of 7 years and with OYAN’s help, but one thing became quite clear to me: I can’t do fantasy. At least, not good fantasy. I’m not a world-builder. I’m a people-builder.

So I went back to the more research-oriented thing. Except, it got even better. I wasn’t just researching a forest, I was researching a while time--centuries away from the time I live in.

Do you know what happens when one goes back in time? Details tend to get scanter and scanter. Not many people are interested in writing books on a castle that was demolished in the Renaissance and got a new castle built on top of it (Nottingham Castle). Thank goodness, I did find one book on that. Also, dear readers, have you ever tried to study King Richard the Lionheart or King John Lackland? The main things you end up with? Humongous biographies (that’s King Richard) or lots of articles talking about the Third Crusade. Hair-loss generator, that. And King John is even worse. Magna Carta this, Magna Carta that. And no biographies.

Okay, so, scratch the kings. Seems like they would be easiest, don’t it? And in way, those headaches are. We just don’t know much about 1191 or 1208. Googling brings up sketchy sites that you’re not sure you can trust and don’t give a whole lot of information anyway. Besides that, it takes hours longer than it seems like it should. Library search (even in our wonderful system) yields almost nothing. Interlibrary loans? More to wade through, and just as tricky. There’s a lot of trial-and-error when you request from the library, and very often the success rate is limited. Especially if you try to place a hold on hundred-year-old books that are in a library in...Britain. (Whoops.)

This post inspires me to make a scanty list of what I have found to be helpful and fairly trustworthy. I have three more waiting on library shelves at this moment to try out. I have one book coming in that the other library will only loan us if I read it at MY library (I can’t take it home). I cross my fingers every time I try to request something that only has 64 copies worldwide. The librarians at my library must wonder what in the world is wrong with me, but hey. Maybe I’ll strike gold.

So this turned into a personal story and rant instead of some facts about stuff that’s been difficult for me to find over the years I’ve been working on my books. That’s okay, though. Probably more interesting that way. I just warn you: further back you go, the less there is to go on. There’s almost as much world building to be done in historical fiction as fantasy, only in historical fiction you’re always in terror of getting something wrong. Seems like it would be easier to make up my own world, but I’ve found that to be a no-go. Guess I’ll stick to the hair loss.

~Nai

P.S. Concerning My Schedule: It is a work in progress. I shall try to update this blog at least once or twice a week, however sporadically.

4 comments:

Annie P. said...

Amen. Amen amen amen. And furthermore, amen. I feel your pain all too acutely.

That's all, really.

Hannah said...

Oh my word yes, researching the late 12th century is so incredibly hard and frusterating! And results in hours upon hours of near-fruitless research, sketchy information, and a lot of dead-ends.

If you have a book list, would you mind sharing it...?

Nairam said...

I'm working on that. I'll probably make a page, too.

Hannah said...

Awesome!

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