Readers often ask, “How do you find the ideas for your stories?” or “Are the people and events in your stories true?” For the answers to these questions and many more . . . join me for a look at how I do my research.
I’ve always enjoyed history and traveling, so doing research for my English historical novels is a lot of fun for me. I can easily get lost in a stack of books when I am plotting out a new story. I usually find the characters and the issues they face by doing my research, so it’s a very important part of bringing the story to life.
I begin by looking at the big picture to get general background information about that time period and location, then I focus in on the exact time, place, and social circles of my main characters. This is where I do my detailed research. I want to get to know my characters’ corner of the world so well that I can move around there in my imagination. I can picture my character walking down a street or sitting at a table and know exactly what the character would see, hear, feel, and smell. I want to research until the historical part of my novel becomes almost second nature and I can focus on the story.
In my latest novel, Across the Blue, I focused the story around the development of early aviation and the pilots who were preparing to be the first to fly across the English Channel to France. I came up with the idea when I visited the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC and saw an exhibit about the Wright Brothers. I noticed a poster for the first International Air Meet in Rheims, France, in 1909. That’s the Edwardian era, and the time period I love for my stories. So I jumped in and started researching early aviation in Europe and the race to be the first to cross the channel. My research led me to the newspaper owner who was offering the prize for the cross-channel race, and that sparked the ideas for the heroine and her family.
I read some wonderful books to give me background information for this story including, The Wright Brothers by David McCullough; Northcliffe: Press Baron in Politics by J. Lee Thompson; Aviation Century: The Early Years by Ron Dick and Dan Patterson; Picture History of Early Aviation by Dover; and Broadsworth Hall and Gardens by Caroline Carr-Worth. YouTube had some wonderful videos of early airplanes, reenactment flights, and drone movies of the Cliffs of Dover and Kent. Pinterest and Google search were also a great help to see images of the area where the story is set. You can see my Pinterest Board for Across the Blue by clicking here.
I’ve traveled to England twice to research my novels set there. My husband Scott traveled with me on the first trip in 2012. We had an amazing time when we visited the Oxford area, including Highclere Castle where Downton Abbey is filmed, The Cotswolds, and the Peak District. That was a great foundation for writing The Edwardian Brides Series.
My friend and fellow-author, Cathy Gohlke, traveled with me on the second research trip in 2014. We visited Tyntesfield near Bristol, which is the inspiration for the setting of Highland Hall, and the beautiful Lake District. I hope to travel to Northumberland where Shine Like the Dawn is set and also Kent where Across the Blue is set. Cathy and I both dream of returning to the Lake District where her next book, Until We Find Home, is set and where I’d also love to set a future story.
2014 Visit to Tyntesfield – Highland Hall
2012 Research Trip to England