In the last post, I covered the initial idea for my book. Every book starts with an idea--writers get ideas from myriad sources. Other books, news articles, personal experiences, and one's own imagination all serve as sources for novels. For historical fiction, after the novelist has a person, place, or portion of history to work with, research begins. Twenty-five or thirty years ago that onerous research would involve going to libraries and archives. Fifteen years ago, when I began my research, a computer with an internet connection went a long way. However, as I will explain in my next blog, the historical novelist cannot rely solely on Internet research. There is great value in visiting places, getting a sense of the landscape, the ethos and pathos of the region, and meeting people who inhabit that region of the earth.
My initial foray into research included finding online sources and books. Notice the image above. These are some of the books I read in my initial research to understand more about . . .
- Equiano's life
- The slave trade
- The abolition of the slave trade
- The abolition of slavery in the United Kingdom and its colonies
- Slavery in the United States
- The American Revolution
- Lord Dunmore and his call to slaves to join the British during the American Revolution
- Rice plantations in South Carolina
- The Middle Passage
- Joanna Vassa.
Online sources included listserves (group email discussion groups based on a common interest--in this case Victorian Literature), which were helpful as I could ask specific questions and scholars would respond if they had helpful information. Archival research is best done in person, but a lot can also be done online, and I found helpful archivists in Cambridge and Clavering to aid in my research. As I began to research, I was an adjunct professor and had access to library databases with numerous helpful scholarly articles. Librarians were immensely helpful. I also found ancestry.com/uk to be helpful, finding census records listing Joanna Vassa and her husband Henry Bromley.
I enjoyed the long, circuitous process of research, spending a few years digesting all the sources I could find, keeping notes, and organizing the material so I could find what I needed when I began to write. The research itself took 2-3 years. I had the basic idea of a plot but didn't begin writing until I had done a significant amount of research. But I didn't finish the research and then begin writing. Research has been ongoing throughout the whole process.
In my next post I'll write about some of the many people who helped on this journey to publication, both in the U.S. and the U.K. Without their guidance and mentoring, I could not have written Remnant.
Let me know if you have any questions about the process in the comments.