Shiny facts

tsundokuI’ve commented before that I have a jackdaw mind: I love shiny facts, and will follow the hint of one for miles through books and around the internet, until I can get my beak on it and carry it away into the recesses of my overstuffed memory.

It might amuse you to know the books and videos currently feeding this obsession (mostly Georgian and British focused, but a few reaching into other places and other eras):

Taste: Kate Colquhuon

Smallpox, Syphilis and Salvation: Sheryl Pearson

The Enlightened Economy: Joel Mokyr

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World: Peter Frankopan

The Secret History of Georgian London: Dan Gruikshank

Crown and Country (TV series on DVD): Edward Windsor as narrator

Ultimate Rome: Empire Without Limit (TV series): Mary Beard as narrator

The Story of China (TV series): Michael Wood as narrator

I’m intending to read (and have on my bedside table):

Redcoats Against Napoleon: Carole Divall

Europe under Napoleon: Michael Broers

In these Times: Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars: Jenny Uglow

(Bit of a theme, there)

The Fortune Hunter: Peter James Bowman

Magpie, Squirrels and Thieves: Jacqueline Yallop

The Unruly Queen: Flora Fraser

Wilful Impropriety: Edaterina Sedia

Unquiet Lives: Marriage and Marriage Breakdown in England: Joanne Bailey




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.


So many resources, so little time

“I have to organise my research and my plots and my characters,” I said to my personal romantic hero over the Christmas break. “I need a database. I need to be able to keep all the resources where I can reach them.”

So off he went, like the hero he is, on a quest to find a simple tool that would do what I want.

One Note database

The answer proved to be OneNote on the PC, linked via the ether with Outline on my IPad. Now I always know who lives at Dennings farm and what the head groom at Longford Court looks like. And the phases of the moon and weather in my part of England during May and June 1807.