I'm so excited to welcome Class of 2K12's Katherine Longshore, she will be guest blogging about research today. Katherine is the author of GILT which is in stores today! I am in love with the GILT cover and can't wait to read it.
GILT, Viking/Penguin May 15, 2012
Thank you, Cari, for having me on your blog! It’s always a joy to meet other book-lovers, and by happy chance, you’ve asked me about one of my favorite things.
I can spend days researching. Months. I live in fear of being called out on an historical inaccuracy, even though I’m sure it’s bound to happen. As hard as I try, I don’t know everything. But that doesn’t stop me from trying.
For GILT, I have researched, among other things:
The color pink
The use of corsets during the Renaissance
Imagery in tapestries
The locations of the Royal Court from 1539-1542
The date of Easter in 1541
And each bit of research takes me into an infinite field of possibilities. I could go for days following up links on Henry VIII’s sister (who doesn’t even appear in GILT), just because she’s so fascinating. I got stuck for almost a half an hour – even after I learned that yes, people did wear pink in 1539 – on the use of plants for dyes, their names and uses and the colors they produced. Research is amazing because it allows me to become a “pseudo-expert” on anything and everything that interests me.
And I’m interested in a lot of different stuff.
Because of this, I do a lot of skimming online. Wikipedia is a great place to begin, but can’t be counted on to be absolutely correct. I’ve caught historical inaccuracies, and I am by no means an authority. I cannot trust a reference that has not been fact-checked. Why, yes, I do have a control-freak personality. I call it attention to detail. But the web can give me a general concept. It can also lead me onto some pretty amazing tangents, some of which are ideas for future books.
If I need to delve deeper, research further, or be completely accountable for my facts, I move onto published secondary sources. For this I go to my local library, where I’ve checked out books on lace-making, fashions through history and even Henry VIII’s sister. Librarians are some of the most awesome people on earth, and I couldn’t do my job without them.
When I first conceived the idea of GILT, I wasn’t sure if I could write an entire book on Catherine Howard. Then, through interlibrary loan, I got a fabulous, 40-year-old biography of Henry’s fifth queen that had been sitting quietly in a sister library in the sleepy little town of Colusa, California. It still contained an old-fashioned check-out stamp card with stamps from the 70s on it. How the book got to Colusa, I don’t know. But I’m glad it did. And I’m very thankful for interlibrary loan. (The book, by Lacey Baldwin Smith, has just been revised and reprinted, and I now own a copy, but I read the one from Colusa twice.)
There are some incredible historians out there writing about Henry VIII, his Court and his wives. Not just Lacey Baldwin Smith, but also David Starkey, Alison Weir, Antonia Fraser, Robert Hutchinson, Julia Fox. I have read dozens of books –cover to cover, as well as footnotes and endnotes – and every time I discover something new and enticing. Plus, some of them are a rollicking good read.
For minutiae, absolutely accurate facts, and detail, I turn to primary sources. It’s kind of hard to find a letter written by Henry VIII in California. But the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII have been transcribed and posted online for everyone’s viewing pleasure. Someone has deciphered the indecipherable scrawl that was Henry's handwriting, and that of his courtiers and scribes. Want to know what the Privy Council was doing on November 11, 1541? It’s right there! You can even search key words! This is the first site in my bookmarks folder and I have spent days trawling its awesomeness.
But by far my favorite form of research is travel. To build a world, the setting must feel real – whether you are writing science fiction or history. And in order to add visual details, I love to get the visual reference. The Tower of London. Hampton Court Palace. Syon House. St. Paul’s Cathedral. Windsor.
But don’t let me fool you. I just love to go to these places, too. Did you know that the crests of the Knights of the Garter are on the ceiling of St. George’s Hall in Windsor? A few have been removed, leaving only a white plaque. These are the Knights who were stripped of the Garter when they were attainted for treason. There are lots of these from the 16th century. One of the reasons I love the Tudors.
Of course, not all of the sites I visit are well-preserved. The last time I went back to England, I went to Lambeth -- the setting of the first third of GILT. It's very different now than it would have been in 1539. For one thing, the house my characters grew up in is no longer there, replaced by a glass-and-steel office block and a fire station. But I got an idea of what the Thames looked like, and Westminster across the river. I took pictures of everything – copied by a group of Lebanese tourists who thought I was photographing something important. Perhaps not to everyone, but certainly to me.
Because accurate, realistic detail is what research is all about, right? You can’t have a Tudor drinking tea just like you can’t have an open door on a Mars-bound spaceship. As a writer, I need to make my world and my characters real and believable. I can’t lose a reader’s willing suspension of disbelief with shoddy research.
It’s a good thing I love it so much.
I want to thank Katherine for stopping by and remember to get a copy of GILT today! To learn more about Katherine visit: