Friday, 5 April 2013

Researching my novels, questions I am asked...

Hey guys;

It has been an interesting couple of days, and since I posted my recent first Q & A session with a local Hack, I have been asked a few questions about how I go about researching my work.

I have to say, that the emergence of data on the internet has been a phenomenal bonus, and is a godsend for Historical research.

However, I am also a Genealogist, and have taken my own, plus friends' family trees back to the 1400's.

The Genealogy resources are a real asset for Historical Fiction.

I am writing about 1850s Leicester, England.

The biggest asset here is the 1841 and 1851 UK Census records, which give you names, addresses, occupations, ages, places of birth, and more.

These Census records continue right through to 1911 and will be my constant companion in each yearly move in my novel timeline.

Also, Historical Registers. There are many documented Registers that detail Pubs; Licensees; shops and their owners; Newspapers, etc. You want to know who was who and what was what at a particular time and place, and these books will tell you.

University catalogues are also full of similar social and economic data.

Recently, 'The British Newspaper Archive' has become available, and for a few pounds, you can view and download papers from your own Town or City, and London, for example. My next major novel is set around Political disquiet in 1854/5 at the time of The Crimean War.

I have downloaded Leicester's papers and 'The Times' of London, for November and December 1854, and I have ready access to what was happening as it was reported, and this is a massive boost to getting fact right!

What is startling to me, when I conduct this research, is that we do not learn, Humans, that is!

Reading the background to the disquiet about the Crimea, I discovered that there was a lot of anti-government sentiment about how the Army had been treated in the first Afghan wars.

In the Crimea, the Army was under-staffed, under-equipped or at least ill-equipped, nobody saw a real motive for war in the Crimea, and the Government was seen as weak and manipulated for going to war in the first place.

Sound familiar?


  1. Hello Phil! [cheery wave]
    Good post. Thank you for sharing.
    As a historian, methinks you would like to join this Yahoo group.
    You cannot post to it and the owner only sends out one email a week, usually on a Sunday.
    Each email contains dozens of links to historical news articles from around the world. I always find something interesting to add to my notes.

    1. Hi Anthony;

      Thanks for the comment. I shall have a look at your group with interest. Thanks for the positive comments re my post. Good Luck!


  2. Thanks for these insights, Phil!

    Like you, I have a background in genealogy. So, I'm always interested in how others use vital records, and so on.

    This is very helpful.

    Also, thank you to Anthony for recommending that Yahoo group.

    1. Hi Eibhlin;

      It's always nice to speak with other authors who have a Genealogy interest. I had not considered how much the same resources, could provide me, as research data for my Historical novels. The good news is, they are a goldmine. Names, places, weird occupations, family ties, brilliant stuff!

      Also, where I have used the data to add truth and reality to my real characters, their census records and VRI data has proven interesting and amusing. For example, Robert Charters, who was the 'Head Constable' of Leicester Borough Police, is shown is most records as from Northamptonshire. However, census research showed him to be from Northumberland, and gave me the clues for his strong 'Geordie' accent, as would have been.

      Amusingly, I had an article published last year about 'Black Tommy' Haynes, who was one of Leicesters first detectives. He had been described by an erroneous census transcribed as a 'super-animated' Police Inspector, when the record actually said 'Super-annuated'- which gave me a laugh!

      Nice to combine both interests!

      Good luck with yours too!



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