Curious facts on WIP Wednesday

LiverpoolAuthors often joke about how a law enforcement agency might react to their Internet search history. We need all kinds of curious facts and odd pieces of knowledge to give strength and depth to our plots, and make them accurate. Even writers who set their stories in a totally imaginary world of fantasy or science fiction need their creations to be believable, and historical fiction writers spend huge amounts of time checking the details of background, custom, clothing, manners, and history so that they don’t make errors that will throw a knowledgeable reader out of the story.

Some of it makes its way into the story. Some of it never does. I spent three days this month researching historical Liverpool for the two chapters where David and Gren pursue investigations in that city, and barely any of it actually appears on the page. Sigh. And a further hour’s research into canals just confirmed that a single sentence was historically possible.

Today, on work-in-progress Wednesday, I’m asking you to post about a curious fact or an interesting piece of research, and show us an excerpt in which you used (or didn’t use but were aware of) that information.

Mine is from Embracing Prudence and is the only place my Liverpool research provide context and texture to the story.

Liverpool was large and busy and smelly. England’s second biggest port, dominating Bristol and rivalling even London, its docks were a forest of ships’ masts and spars surrounded by a cacophony of loading and unloading that began at first light and continued until it was too dark to see.

“Abolition will hit them hard,” Gren observed, as they strolled to the offices of the man they had come to see.

“Disgusting trade,” David observed. Liverpool had built its wealth on the Triangle Trade: cheap manufactured goods and guns from its hinterland to Africa, to be traded to chiefs for the live bodies of their enemies. Men, women, and children across the Atlantic to the islands of the Carribean, to be traded for sugar and cotton and other tropical products. Sugar and cotton back across to Liverpool, to be fed into the manufactories that supplied the United Kingdom and beyond.

But even in Liverpool, hard though many had argued the economic costs of stopping the trade, support for abolition had grown these last twenty-five years. The Abolition Bill currently before Parliament was in its final readings, and likely this time to pass where so many had failed. Had some of the local merchants seen the signs of the times and decided to diversify? And applied the same ruthless disregard for human life to the fur trade?

They climbed the stairs to the offices in a substantial building off one of the main thoroughfares leading up from the river. Atkins had a sign on the door saying ‘Thos. Atkins, Discreet Enquiries’, and two clerks in the outer office.


8 thoughts on “Curious facts on WIP Wednesday

  1. I’ve been looking at Bristol. I hadn’t considered it as a port before but I needed a city the government might want to garrison troops in and found riots and demonstrations in 1831 when the Reform Bill failed. Bingo. I need more atmosphere and detail in rewrites though.

    • Prue and David are in Bristol next, but nearly thirty years before. The floating port is being constructed, and also the canal link that will eventually take goods landed at Bristol all the way to London. By your time, both of those were there. Possibly also the railway, which made the canal obsolete. It was founded in 1833, and ran its first trains in 1838.

    • The hard bit is not the research, which is pure joy. The hard bit is leaving the research out of the book so as not to overwhelm the poor reader with shiny glittering facts that intrigue and delight the writer but have nothing to do with the story.

      • For me the research is pure joy until I need to know one specific thing and I can’t find the answer *anywhere* and don’t know where to start looking!!

      • I’m not too fond of those moments when I find exactly what I’m looking for, and it blows my whole plot out of the water.

  2. Years ago when I still lived in Ohio, I regularly drove south on U.S. 23 toward WV and KY. There’s a small museum in Circleville where’s I discovered something called a cemetery alarm. Twenty+ years later it showed up in my cozy, “The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy.” The model I viewed in Circleville was done after the date of my novel’s setting, but a little research turned up several prototypes that fit perfectly in my story line. Just imagine burying Mr. Darcy alive!!! Writing mysteries, I’m always looking for facts on how to kill a person. Police departments would think me an odd bird!

    • One day, I want to include a cemetery man trap – a particularly nasty device involving a trip wire and a shot gun that was set up on the perimeter of a cemetery to deter body snatchers (experience having shown that after they had been shot at close range and blow into little bits they tended not to offend again).

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