Some of the research is for a basic flavor of the time period. Fashions, mores, politics, laws, etc. These can drive plot (or cause a plot hole!), and also plops the reader right down in the middle of the time period. There are a lot great primers out there on the Regency, and I think for most readers of Regency romance or for those into history—like I was—getting the overall feel for the time period is fairly easy.
But the devil is in the details, my friends! The devil is in the details…There are some strange things I have researched, and stranger things I have done in the name of research. I swear, though, these details are what make the books come alive. Here are a few examples:
- Regency era food and recipes, even going so far as to write out 4 course menu. It was eventually cut from the manuscript (does anyone really need that kind of information?), but I did use a small portion of it in The Smuggler Wore Silk.
- Herbal remedies for croup, the symptoms of croup, and natural cough suppressants. I don’t recommend using the mixture I put together in SWS! I pieced it together from the various texts I read.
- What needles were made out of in 1813, and what type of thread was used for stitching people up. I read the most fascinating medical text for this one.
- Known poisons in the 19th century. I found a handbook of sorts on this topic, prefaced with a disclaimer similar to our “don’t try this at home.” The author was listing poisons and how to apply them, in order to instruct the reader how to counteract a particular poison, whether intentionally or accidentally administered.
- The type of wood used to make the ribs of women’s fans in 1817. Never did figure that one out. But I did discover a lot about fans, the language of fans, and what might be painted on a fan. Lilias carries a fan in quite a few scenes in In Bed With A Spy.
- An opera house in existence in Vienna at a time when Wellington’s army was around, and operas that might be playing at that time. That was surprisingly difficult, but I’m fairly confident the opera I chose would at least have been possible. I couldn’t find an actual schedule, alas.
- How short opera dancers’ skirts were, and when they were raised from ankle to calf.
- The full moon cycle in latter half of 1813. Seriously. I made a calendar of when the moon was full, waning, waxing etc., and tried to make sure that for each scene that occurred at night, the moon was in its appropriate phase. (Just call me OCD!)
- What the buttons on a man’s coat would be made out of in 1817, and gloves as well.
- How dry stone fences were made in different counties in England. These are the fences that separate fields into the patchwork pattern we all associate with the English countryside (at least, I do). I spent probably 3 hours researching this, for a 2 page scene—however, this was about 6 years ago, possibly a little longer, and the internet was not as it was now, which is why it took so long.
- Spy networks in France (fun stuff!). I particularly enjoyed a bit about a double agent, and used that in SWS.
But the fun research is the ‘real life’ kind, which for me once involved going outside into my yard at night. I wanted to know how well a person could really see under a full moon (see my calendar above). Turns out, you can see quite a lot of detail when the moon is full and the sky is clear. Color is not particularly discernible, as the world is silvered slightly so it becomes light and shadow. It’s actually quite peaceful, by the way, standing in your yard alone under a bright and beautiful full moon!
Other ‘real life’ research experiences on my bucket list are: wear a Regency gown complete with stays and petticoat, fencing lessons, and a trip to England. Someday!
Despite being a native Michigander, Alyssa Alexander is pretty certain she belongs somewhere sunny. And tropical. Where drinks are served with little paper umbrellas. But until she moves to those white sandy beaches, she survives the cold Michigan winters by penning romance novels that always include a bit of adventure. She lives with her own set of heroes, aka an ever-patient husband who doesn’t mind using a laundry basket for a closet, and a small boy who wears a knight in a shining armor costume for such tasks as scrubbing potatoes.
*Photos from Wikimedia Commons
Dry Stone Wall: By Nick Stenning from UK (To the sea) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Fan: Photographed by: York Museums Trust Staff [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Dress: By Rudolph Ackermann (England, London, 1764-1834) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons