Getting history right

. The other day I was reading an historical novel. It was written by a modern-day American, but it was set in Regency England – and was utterly convincing. I was totally lost in the time and place – until someone said ‘gotten’.

Now that word is barely said in modern day England, let alone Regency England – and that one word alone snapped me right out of the spell of the book. I put it down, unable to read any further. True, it was just one word – but it was enough to remind me I was reading a book, not stepping into another world, and the fantasy was lost.

So I am begging you, if you are writing an historical novel, please research it. Anne Perry and Georgette Heyer are both authors of fine, brilliant historical novels – and they did (and in Ms Perry’s case, do) hours and hours of research. Ms Perry told me she works twelve hours a day – and the majority of that is research.

You may not need to work quite as hard – her novels are meticulously detailed. But whenever you write an historical book, there will always be a nerd like me, ready to spot the mistakes. (BTW, all my knowledge is based around British history. If you are not British, and are writing a British novel, PLEASE get someone British to read it for language – and vice versa,of course. No amount of research will give you a feel for language patterns like actually growing up somewhere does.)

So – sources. A good source are those BBC productions of classic novels. Watching them gives you a feel for the language – and there is usually a big glossy ‘Making of’ book, where the costume designers and choreographers and etiquette guides go into intense detail about their work

If you’re doing Regency times, there are countless ‘world’s of Jane Austen/Georgette Heyer’ books that can help.

If you’re doing Victorian, I recommend this site.


Brilliantly helpful (and run by Lee Jackson, who also writes historical novels)

And of course, there’s other historical authors – I recommend Georgette Heyer, Anne Perry, Lee Jackson, Madeline Brent and Jean Plaidy (also known as Victoria Holt). They can give you a feel for the era, the language, and the social mores.

But don’t let all the research put you off. For one thing, all that research can be fascinating. And because, as a reader, it is utterly enchanting to pick up a book, and find yourself transported back to another time and place. After all, if I wanted to know about the here and now, I’d just look out the window, wouldn’t I?


3 responses to “Getting history right

  1. I agree about doing the research. That is essential. While the word “get” may not have been used during the Regency time period by the upper crust, the word “get” as in “to hold, to grasp, to obtain, to beget, to contain” has been in the English vernacular since c.1200.

    When I worked in a library, I did research on this word. the OED has an entire page devoted to get, its etymology and meanings.

    Fascinating stuff!


  2. You are so right about research, Michelle. And the novel doesn’t even have to be an historical. I was reading a novel where the heroine mentioned the smell of lilacs– and the only problem with that is she also kept mentioning what a hot July it was. I like to putter in my garden and that REALLY put me off since lilacs bloom in the spring. I never could finish the book.

  3. Wow, nothing like the real world to kill the pleasure of reading a good book.

    I don’t think that I experienced that kind of killjoy while reading, but I can see how it can make you drop a book when it does happen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s