As we celebrate Banned Book Week...I stumbled upon this simple and reflective video that in my opinion captures the spirit of this occasion.
from Epic Reads.....Published on Sep 25, 2015
Loving Research (for Bookworm’s Dinner)
by Patricia Bracewell
"I’m going to share with you a little secret about researching a historical novel: Novelists LOVE the research. We swoon over it, bathe in it, and struggle to tear ourselves away from it long enough to write our books. There. Now you know.
My own research process, I regret to admit, is helter-skelter. Most of it is done at my desk or in a university library taking notes on whatever academic tome is open in front of me. Often there are several books open at once, scattered on the table and even on the floor when I run out of room.
Sometimes I’ve been more creative: I’ve taken a summer course in Anglo-Saxon history at Cambridge University; I’ve exchanged e-mails with a thatcher in England; I’ve gazed across a tea table at an eminent historian of Anglo-Saxon textiles and whispered, “Let’s talk about medieval women’s undergarments.”
I was very shy about approaching experts to ask for help when I first began my research. I’m less so now. Having a novel published in four languages has done wonders for my self-confidence.
Some of my research is done on the internet: consulting databases of articles about the Anglo-Saxons; studying Old English charters; or exploring the histories of places that I want to use as settings – whether towns, villages, ancient pathways or stone circles.
The facts about people’s lives, though, are not so easy to come by a thousand years on. For example, we know the names of King Æthelred’s children, but not much more than that. The dates of their births are historical guesses, not facts. The eldest son, Athelstan, left a will, and every single thing that we know about him is contained in that 2-page list of bequests. It isn’t much.
Academics are willing to speculate a bit about the activities of the historical figures of England’s 11th century, based on whatever tiny hints they can glean from the historical record – the chronicles, the charters, the wills, even the Norse sagas. Information in such documents, though, is often contradictory, leaving even the historians puzzled about what actually happened. And then there’s the when and the how and the why to try to establish. That’s where a novelist can give her imagination free reign while an academic has to be more guarded. For the fiction writer, that’s where the fun comes in.
Researching Emma’s life during the years covered by my trilogy, especially in Shadow on the Crown and The Price of Blood, was difficult because there is almost no record of her at all in those years. Her name is mentioned a few times in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and she signs several charters, indicating that she was at court beside the king on those occasions. One charter in 1012 is a grant of land from the king to Emma, so historians conjecture that she gave birth to a son at about that time. But where was she the rest of the time and what was she doing? Because there was no other direct reference to Emma, all I could do was bury myself in the history of and make some conjectures of my own based on what I was able to learn about a queen’s duties and Emma’s later career.
Frequently the vagueness of historical records forced me to invent. For instance, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle claimed that the Danes attacked London several times in 1009, and that the Londoners always repelled them. But there was no description of what, exactly, happened when the Danes attacked. I had to make it up based on my imagination and what I could learn of the military tactics of the time.
Sometimes I’ve discovered a tiny bit of information that I find really intriguing, and then I spend a lot of mental effort trying to figure out how to use it in my story. I wanted to use that gift of property from the king to Emma in 1012 that I mentioned above, but I couldn’t make it work. It just didn’t fit anywhere. The information that the thatcher sent me resulted in a terrific scene, but it was cut in a late draft. When I was at Gladstone’s Library in Wales a few months ago I learned something fascinating about Swein Forkbeard (not saying what), and now I’m trying desperately to find a way to include it in the next book. I guess you could call that the heartbreak of research – all those lovely bits that don’t make it into the novel. Research – much as we love it, sometimes we have to let it go."
(by Patricia Bracewell courtesy of Meredith Burks, Viking Press)