I have been asked many times how much research I do—how much I believe is necessary—for historical romance. I suppose the answer depends on whether you want to write a “wallpaper” historical romance, one that is generally set in an era with a few nods to what the clothes and setting look like, or a romance that genuinely reflects the history and people of the time, and is correct in historical details. Since I write stories reflecting actual history, where the history itself is a character, I must do a lot of work to get it right. It takes hundreds of hours for each novel, especially if I’m starting from scratch in a particular era. But as my unofficial mentor, Virginia Henley once told me, “Research is my passion.” It’s mine, too.
In my first novel, Racing With The Wind, book 1 in the Agents of the Crown trilogy, I started with the Regency period in England (1811-1820) and a character—Lady Mary Campbell. I believe that women in past times were not so different in character, hopes and dreams than women are today. It’s just that women of the past were more constrained. While there have always been women who are happy to conform to the expectations of their times, there have always been women who did not. Perhaps because of their intelligence, courage and curiosity, those who do not conform become bored with the role carved out for their sex and want more. They push the envelope of what is acceptable. I wanted to take a woman like that and look at her through the lens of Regency England. What would she do differently than the women of her age?
While the period from 1811-1820 in England was characterized by a Prince Regent who lived a debauched lifestyle where courtesans might be treated better than the wives of arranged marriages, a young lady of the nobility would be raised in a certain manner with certain expectations of proper behavior. My heroine is one of those who rebels—and her behavior is noted by the ton. The daughter of an earl, she rides astride in men’s clothes (scandalous behavior for her time though some women did it); she is educated and reads the classics; and she is ever seeking adventure. Armed with that information, I went looking for history that would make for an interesting story. And I found it in Paris in 1816.
With Napoleon exiled to St. Helena and Louis XVII restored to France’s throne, much was happening in Paris. The allied troops were still encamped around the city and the officers frequented King Louis’ Court. The English were favored, having provided a safe harbor to the exiled French king. Knowing what I do about governments, I knew there would be spies as well as statesmen lurking about.
And that brought me to my hero.
Hugh, Marquess of Ormond, had to be strong enough to handle a Lady Mary Campbell, and wise enough to appreciate her unique personality. Of course, while drawn to her beauty and spirit, he would find her independent nature most troublesome. Still, she would be exactly the right woman for him. So, enter Hugh’s alter ego—the Nighthawk, a mysterious legend in France during Napoleon’s reign. He was a dark, caped figure who stole secrets in the dead of night, secrets that were at the heart of Napoleon’s military campaigns.
From those two characters, I built my story of adventure and love in Paris in 1816. The research was extensive. I not only needed to understand the English peerage so I’d get the forms of address and their pastimes correct, but I needed to know the customs in both England and France. I needed to understand who, besides the French king, was in Paris during the year in which my story was set and likely to be at the French court.
While he isn’t a character, Napoleon is talked about by the characters throughout the book, and his imprint on Paris at the time is discussed, and in some cases, lamented. For the prologue and other scenes, I had to know something about Napoleon’s defeat in Russia in 1812 (this was also a factor in the prologue for my second novel, Against the Wind).
For many scenes, I had to understand what buildings of state were open in 1816. Two of my scenes are set in Notre Dame, though I had at first wanted to set them in the Sainte-Chapelle church in Paris, as it’s one of my favorites. However, my research disclosed it was closed in 1816 for renovation. For one dining scene, I communicated with the famous restaurant La Tour d’Argent to ascertain if they were serving their current specialty, duck, in 1816. They weren’t, so I had to change the menu. I also had to understand what books my bluestocking heroine might read in 1816. And, of course, some of my characters are real, historic figures. Germaine de Stael is one of those and I had to learn much about her to make her lines true to the woman she was. But in the end, my novel is better for those kinds of details.
In addition to the main research, there are “rabbit trails” that must be explored. Lady Mary is always escaping into the gardens, typically full of roses. I wanted the hero to observe something clever that would indicate his knowledge of France during the time he’d been the Nighthawk. So in researching roses in France, I discovered that the Empress Josephine loved roses and actively cultivated them. Hence the hero tells Mary that Josephine, too, loved roses. It may seem a trivial point, but it adds depth to the story and made him seem more winsome. It took me half a day to do the work behind his one line in that scene.
For Wind Raven, my latest release and the 3rd in the Agents of the Crown trilogy, since many of the scenes are set on a schooner and in Bermuda (a place I’ve not been to) and Puerto Rico, I had a lot of work to do. To make it authentic, it wasn’t enough to know what the schooner looked like; I had to know all its parts, using the correct terminology, and how to describe action scenes on the ship. To get better acquainted with the ship, I took a day trip on an historic schooner of the period, the Californian, which happily is berthed in San Diego, where I live. I was fortunate enough to find an expert who wanted to help me understand her world of schooners and crewing on a ship. That took hundreds of hours and lots of emails to get the terminology right, but in the end I was pleased when my beta readers told me they could feel the salt spray on their faces.
For the scenes in Bermuda and Puerto Rico, I spent many, many hours looking at maps and pictures and reading the history of both places, including the food and plant life. Since it’s a Regency, I also needed to know who, among the upper class of English society, lived in Bermuda in 1817, because I was going to invite all of them to dinner at a certain home that was new then but still exists today. My Author’s Note talks about this.
Oh, yes, and did I forget the pirates? Well, there’s a very special pirate in Wind Raven—a real, historic figure—who wore earrings to die for. (Perhaps some did.) El Pirata Cofresí was a tall, blond giant of a man. European by heritage, he was well educated and handsome with piercing blue eyes. He took up piracy against his family’s wishes for reasons that are shrouded in mystery (you’ll have to read my story to learn about this!). He became a hero to the common people of Puerto Rico because he shared his spoils with them, a legend in his own time. Of course, the pirate thinks, my heroine, Tara McConnell, is just the woman for him. But my hero, Capt. Nicholas Powell, is having none of it, oh no!
So, you see? There’s a lot of work behind those stories!
Captain Jean Nicholas Powell, an English privateer and a merchant sea captain, has been ordered by the Prince Regent into a sea of scoundrels in the Caribbean to investigate a pirate seizing English merchant ships. He has no time for Tara McConnell, an impudent American he is forced to take as a passenger and who thinks she can crew with his men, especially when his passion for the hoyden begins to run high.
On the way to love, they will face a terrible storm, pirates, cutthroats and thieves—including one pirate who would have Tara for his own!
HER LOVE WAS A TIDE SHE COULDN’T HOLD BACK
“A fine fix we’re in,” Tara said, looking first at the captain and then at the night sky. The stars began to show themselves in the darkening canvas above, giving her the sense she stood on a precipice at an auspicious moment in time. It had only been a short while ago she had gained the insight she had now about the two of them. She should have realized the truth long ago.
“What do you mean?” he asked, coming up behind her, so close she could feel the heat of his chest. His warmth had always drawn her, and it was pulling her to him now like a strong undertow.
“Each of us withheld from the other the one thing we wanted,” she remarked, staring into the night sky.
“And what would that be?” He put his hands on her arms, drawing her back against his chest. She shivered with his touch but allowed it, while fighting the urge to turn and fall into his arms.
“You wanted my body and, fool that I am, I wanted your heart.”
He spun her around so fast her vision blurred. “My heart? You wanted my heart?”
“Yes, but I cannot seem to touch it.” His eyes carried a look of astonishment. “Well, you can keep it,” she said emphatically. “I don’t want it anymore. And you shall never have me!”
He stared at her for only a moment. “Oh, yes, I will.” As if she had defied one of his many orders and he was having none of it, he brought his mouth down on hers in a kiss that was claiming. One of his hands closed on her nape and his other arm wrapped tightly around her waist, holding her to him, trapping her with his powerful strength.
A Giveaway! I’ll be giving one commenter a choice of my first novel or one of my short stories or novella. Do you love real history and real historic figures in the historical romances you read?
You can find the Agents of the Crown trilogy on Amazon.com:
Wind Raven – Book 3
Against the Wind – Book 2
Racing With The Wind – Book 1
Regan was raised in California and had a career as a lawyer that included stints in high levels of government, giving her a feel for the demands of the “Crown” on its subjects. Not surprisingly, her first novels are all about a demanding Prince Regent who thinks of his subjects as his private talent pool. She loves to weave history and real historic figures into her romances and promises to sweep her readers away to another time and place to experience adventure as well as love.
Her first novel in the Agents of the Crown trilogy, Racing With The Wind, was published by Boroughs Publishing Group in 2012, and her second, Against The Wind was published in 2013. Wind Raven, the third in the trilogy, is her newest release. She is a member of the Beau Monde and San Diego chapters of Romance Writers of America and lives in San Diego.
You can find Regan at:
Author website: http://www.reganwalkerauthor.com/
Regan’s Romance Reviews blog: http://reganromancereview.blogspot.com/
Regan’s Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/Regan-Walker/e/B008OUWC5Y
12 thoughts on “How Much Research for Historical Romance? – Guest Post by Regan Walker, Author of Wind Raven”
Love the fact you spend so much time on research. I’ll look for that book. I’ll even admit that the research is half the fun of writing historical romance. Details give a read the kind of depth that makes an author trustworthy. A shame more authors don’t understand that. Great blog.
Allison, I so agree. If you love the research, diving into the past, then it’s not a chore; it’s a treasure hunt! I do hope you read my novels–and let me know what you think!
Allison, you are the winner! I’ll be sending you an email asking which of my books you want. Congrats! And thanks for participating.
Thanks, Babette, for having me on your blog! It’s great to be here to talk about researching my stories.
Very interesting to read how much research you do. I’m in the process of writing my first historical trilogy and agree completely about the importance of research. Although, sadly, I often get carried away and end up in some strange places. Good blog. Enjoyed it.
Thanks for stopping by, Tricia (and for connecting on FB!). Yes, it sometimes takes discipline to turn from the research. But to make an effort to dive deeply is worthy, I think. We never get it all right, of course, but at least we try, right?
I’ve learned so much more about American history than I ever did sitting in all my classes on the subject in high school and college. I’m in agreement with you that your setting should be as correct as possible, and still be able to tell a story. I love digging into the background for my stories, even down to the type of jewelry that was popular of the day. Nice post, Regan.
Thanks, Becky. I do agree! I have learned much more about European history for my research than I ever did in school. I told one of my friends that I could teach a class in history using historical romances. Wouldn’t that be fun?
The winner of the giveaway is Allison Knight! Congratulations, Alison, you win your choice of my stories!
What a great post, Regan! I, too, try to write authentic historical romances, rather than “wallpapers.” It can be difficult to strike a healthy balance between the historical elements and romance, but I suppose it’s about integrating social and atmospheric details wherever compliments the story/characters best. When in doubt, I ensure the world-building reflects the characterizations/their plight in either a metaphorical or literal sense.
Wind Raven sounds amazing and like my breed of story. I just got it for my Kindle Paperwhite and am super eager to start reading! My current WIP is set during Napoleon’s exile from Elba/return to Paris. The research has been tough, especially since I’m trying to portray him not as an evil tyrant, but a fallen war hero (as some Parisians, indeed, believed him to be).
You have no idea how deeply I relate to this line: “It took me half a day to do the work behind his one line in that scene.” It’s amazing though… “gem” moments, such as these, can truly bring a story to that next level, causing it to resonate with the reader in an unforgettable way.
Thanks so much for the comment, Rachel. It is so good to meet an author who struggles over the research as I do. Yes, it’s a challenge to weave the fictional story into the real history and not overdo either, but when I can accomplish that, I relish it. The medieval romance I just finished, The Red Wolf’s Prize, was just such a work. It’s set in 1068, two years after the Conquest, and features the Siege of Exeter and the Battle of York. I’ll be interested to know what you think of it when it comes out this fall. I look forward to reading your novel, too. It’s on my “to read” list for August!
I’m absolutely fascinated by all things medieval, and will defiently give it a read! Thank you for the heads up. 😉
Oh, I sincerely hope you enjoy The Frost of Springtime! 😀