It’s been a while since I’ve written anything historical (or historically tinted) that hasn’t been fantasy. So long that I’ve almost forgotten how much fun research can be. Especially these days, when I can write, stop, look up hairstyles, move on to find out what hair rats are, go back to writing, stop to google something else… Back in the day before hot and cold running internet and having a laptop to work on, it was a different story. I wrote long-hand in notebooks, and had a second notebook where I wrote down all the facts that needed checking the next time I was in the library, before I grabbed a third notebook and worked on the next draft.
For research-while-I-write, the internet is hard to beat. Not that it stops me buying books! I’ve got a whole stack of new reading material from the “A-Z of Criminal Justice” to Mack Bostridge’s excellent “The Fateful Year, England 1914“, Lucy Adlington’s “Great War Fashion“, and James Hayward’s “Myths and Legends of the First World War.”
A bit different from the cyberwar, hacking and social engineering tomes I’m leafing through when writing Jack & Gareth, but exceedingly entertaining all the same.
It helped that it’s been such a foul weekend here, as far as the weather was concerned. Just the thing to huddle on the sofa with the books and the laptop and read, write, read some more, all while working on the draft of Forever England, a series of whodunnits / spy stories set in England between 1912 and 1921.
While my school history lessons have been excellent when it comes to the big events, what I’m looking for now are the minutiae of life in English villages and towns in the years either side of the Great War. I’m looking for attitudes as much as the kind of clothes people wore. Most of all, I’m looking for the changes those years wrought, when those who stayed home were as much affected by the war as those who crossed the Channel to lay down their lives.
In between reading up on medicinal uses for arsenic, spy cameras, the law concerning suicide, and cars popular in the pre-war years, I’ve also learned that women choosing “combinations” as their underwear were required to strip down to nothing when needing to use a bathroom. When wearing a chemise, laced corset, petticoats and numerous other garments that sounds a serious handicap. On the other hand, Edwardian ladies got to look amazingly elegant when they stepped out, and I’d love to have a lady on hand to ask how uncomfortable all that getup really was.
The voluminous hair, for one, was achieved by draping ones own tresses over “hair rats”, mesh nets filled with hair or wool, to give the required height. Hats were enormous, and not optional when stepping outside one’s own front door, and well-bred women wore gloves wherever they went or were considered “slovenly”.
On a more serious note, I’m now also informed about the procedure to follow when needing to exhume a body, and I’ve read the heartbreaking story of Lady Edward Herbert Gascoyne-Cecil trying to find her missing son in northern France.
All in all, what started as a tiny plot bunny while looking up a flower is turning into an excellent historical adventure with a group of characters I’m rapidly falling in love with. The next few months are looking decidedly exciting!