March 16, 2011

Guest Post: Carol K Carr, Researching the 19th Century

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Yesterday I reviewed India Black, a book I highly recommend. Today I have a fascinating guest post by the author Carol K Carr. Please check it out!

Welcome Carol!


Thanks, Christina, for having me on your blog.


Over the years (well, decades really, though I hate to admit to that), I’ve read a lot of Victorian literature and history.   Consequently, I have a general knowledge of politics, public issues, and social conventions that I put to use in creating the background for India Black.  What I didn’t have was specific knowledge about Victorian brothels and prostitutes.  My image of prostitution in England during the 1870’s was limited to stereotypical views of destitute women who’d do anything for the price of gin.  That one-dimensional picture did not survive my research.


Prostitution could be found at every level of Victorian society, including among the aristocracy and royalty.  There were brothels catering to every form of sexual deviancy.  There were street walkers and escort services and kept women, some of whom managed to climb the greasy pole and actually marry the aristocratic objects of their affection (not without some damage to the husband’s social ambitions, of course).  Given the extensive variety of London whores, it wasn’t difficult to contrive a situation for India.  She’s a brothel owner on the rise, whose clients include the minor aristocracy, government officials and military officers.  Her brothel is not in the first rank of bordellos yet, but she has every expectation that it will be, when the fathers of her minor aristocrats die, and those chaps inherit their titles.


I also spent a lot of time researching minor issues, to ensure that the book was as historically accurate as I could make it.  Writing historical fiction of any sort is a minefield, because there is always someone out there who knows more than you do about a topic.  And you have to decide just how accurate you want to be.  As Bruce Alexander (the author of the Sir John Fielding mysteries) once said, “never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”  I agree, but I lean toward packing the novels with as much authenticity as I can muster.  That means researching things I didn’t know I needed to, until I started writing about them.


One example is the type of weapons used in the book.  I knew India would carry a revolver for protection, and that French, the British agent, would also have a variety of weapons.  The reader may not know or care whether India’s British Bulldog and French’s Boxer were real revolvers of the period, or just something I’d made up, but I would know.  I wanted to be sure that the characters carried guns which would have been in use at the time.  Thank goodness for the internet!  It’s a wonderful tool, but you have to use it carefully, cross-checking sources and digging for information, rather than accepting the first data you find.  There’s a fair bit of information available about these guns, including reproductions of the manufacturers’ catalogues and auction house brochures where you can see multiple views of the revolvers.  I’ve actually been looking for an affordable British Bulldog, just so I can fire it at the range and feel what India felt, but alas, antique arms appear to be an expensive hobby I can’t justify, even in the name of historical accuracy.  


These kinds of specific issues arose frequently in writing the book.  I knew that Cossacks often acted as guards at Russian embassies at this time, but what did they wear?  What weapons would they carry?  What did the coastline around Calais look like?  What route would you take from London to Dover?  Off to the library (actually, off to the internet to order books through inter-library loan).   While this may sound tedious, research is actually the most enjoyable part of the writing experience for me.  I’m curious about lots of things, and writing a historical tale gives me a great excuse to delve into things that interest me, like fencing, Scottish ballads, and the floor plan of Balmoral (for the second India), and anarchists, assassinations, and labor unrest in Victorian England (for the third India).   I would guess it’s the same for anyone writing historical fiction:  if you aren’t a history buff with a curiosity about the past, you’ll probably write something else.

Thanks Carol. I really appreciate an author who takes the time researching the small things that add to the authenticity. It helps the reader stay in the moment.

Scroll down to the next post for a giveaway of India Black. Open to US and Canadian readers.


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2 comments :

  1. "There were brothels catering to every form of sexual deviancy." I just wonder how them men found the brothel to suit their particular deviancy. It's easy now a days, I'm sure. The Internet has everything. LOL!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I do think getting those small details right is what makes the difference in a good book and a great one.

    ReplyDelete

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