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 most recent novel, No Ocean Too Wide, I focused on the heart-wrenching child emigration scheme that took more than 100,000 poor and orphaned children from England to Canada from 1869 – 1939. I chose to tell this story through the experiences of the fictional McAlister family, but I wove in many actual accounts given by British Home Children. The idea for the story was sparked by a Facebook post from the British Home Children Advocacy and Research Association Group. I joined that group and began reading about the children’s experiences and watching video interviews of the few who are still living. I knew I wanted to tell their story and make sure British Home Children were remembered and honored.
I read some wonderful books to give me background information for this story including, The Golden Bridge by Marjorie Kohli; Nation Builders – Barnardo Children in Canada by Gail H. Corbett; The Little Immigrants – The Orphans Who Came to Canada by Kenneth Bagnell; Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children by Rose McCormick Brandon; and Labouring Children- British Immigrant Apprentices to Canada, 1869-1924 by Joy Parr. Pinterest and Google were also a great help to see images of the areas where the story is set and learn more about British Home Children. You can see the characters and setting on my Pinterest Board for No Ocean Too Wide by clicking this link.
I’ve traveled to England twice to research my novels set there. My husband Scott traveled with me on the first trip. 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. 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. No Ocean Too Wide takes place in London, Liverpool, and Ontario, Canada. I’ve visited those places in the past, but I’d love to go again. 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