Wednesday, June 02, 2010
Research is Hell...Okay. No, It's Not.
I just got back from a trip to England and Ireland. All right. I'll be honest. I would have gone no matter what. But this time I got a chance to research my new series, Drake's Rakes(why yes, that is the cover to the first book, BARELY A LADY, my July release).
What did I do in England? I walked. To be specific, I walked Mayfair and St. James. I had a backpack and my computer, my camera, a notebook and a cache of coins with which to buy myself a gin and tonic at select pubs, and I set off to walk the streets my characters walked. I peeked in windows and counted doors, I read all those cute blue plaques that denoted what famous historical person resided or visited or spoke of what building, and I sat on a sidewalk with my gin and tonic when I couldn't squeeze my way through all the London marathoners who were sidling up to the pubs(of course I picked the day that every public park was closed so people could limp and frown past with numbers pasted to their backs). I even rode a double decker so I could look down on the city my characters walked. And then when I was finished in London, I did the same thing in the Cotswolds(well, except for the double-decker. Precious few of those in Stow-in-the-Wold).
It's how I research. Oh, I read the books. I studied the colored plates and maps and the details of uniforms and pelisses and high perch phaetons. But if I really want to understand my characters' universe, I need to see it and hear it and smell it myself. If I want my heroine, Olivia Grace to walk Curzon Street, I need to walk it so I can see how it meanders uphill toward Hyde Park. I need to walk into Berry Brothers where the famous scale still resides that held Brummel and Poodle Byng. I need to know how to get to St. George's and what it feels like to sit in the park at the center of Grosvenor Square. What was it like to stroll up St. James(and you really do stroll UP St. James)?
I need to meander over the gentle hills of the Cotswolds and see how the buildings really do glow that buttery yellow in Burford and Bourton-on-the-Water. I need to sit in the pubs where centuries of people have sat, where the fires warmed the rooms and the floors soaked up the spills. It's like when I sit there I can actually hear what went on, and pass it on into my own books.
You see, I'm a global learner. Information just doesn't connect unless I can take it in through all of my senses. And if I'm quiet, I can hear the voices of the people who have been there before me, I can smell the fire that warmed the rooms and smell the ale that spilled on the wood floor. I can see the teams of horses swinging through the archway out onto the street and feel the shock of cold air as the door opens on the handsome loner, who is pulling off his driving gloves and removing his curly beaver hat as he steps into the crowded room.
But that book hasn't happened yet. Right now it's summer and Waterloo looms. I just wish I'd had the chance to walk the battlefield before I wrote about it. But I don't get always get the chance to do my favorite research. Which I why I took advantage of it when I could and spent time in England. I'll take any help in making my stories and characters more real. Even if I have to suffer through a wonderful trip to England in the spring.