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Research for historical novel

Discussion in 'Writer's Lounge' started by PageTurner, June 3, 2018.

  1. PageTurner

    PageTurner Member

    I'm working on writing a historical fiction series. I'm still in the seemingly neverending research phase. I've read a lot of secondary sources, but I am still working on getting my hands on some solid primary sources. A lot of information is available online but there are some important documents that are only available in the actual archives.

    I'm in the United States and the archives I'd need to access are in England. Does anyone know if you can request to have copies of something in the archives emailed to you? If that's possible, is there typically a fee involved?

    Additionally, I would love to reach out to some historians (or anyone who has a lot of knowledge about the time period, people, places, etc.). Has anyone ever reached out to a historian or some kind of professional in order to research their book? How did you go about asking them? What kind of professionals have you reached out to in the past? How receptive were they to your inquiries?
  2. CatInASuit

    CatInASuit Administrator Staff Member

    Which archives are you looking at and which time period, the UK has a lot of history to go over.

    There is usually a fee involved in talking to archives, normally from someone having to find the data instead of the sending it across.

    When I've done research, not for literature, a polite letter and request for assistance was my usual way of making contact.
  3. Jackie

    Jackie Member

    When I was reaching out to historians and professors, I had better luck when I emailed them with a list of specific questions. Of course, I introduced myself and talked very briefly about my project, but then I jumped right into it. I would also suggest trying to find professionals as close to you as possible because some will be more than willing to meet up with you and chat about it.
  4. Kindler

    Kindler Active Member

    If there is one thing that experts like, it's a chance to show off their knowledge to someone prepared to listen to them. ;)
  5. tirial

    tirial IT fixer extraordinaire

    I don't know which archives you need but smaller mueseums can be surprisingly open to visitors doing research and if you are upfront about what you want it for, they will normally be very helpful. For Fire Season, the Gatwick Aviation museum let a certain author crawl around in the cockpit of one of their Shackletons (VH was very happy about it, since that was technically a live nuclear bomber...).
  6. PageTurner

    PageTurner Member

    I'm still gathering a list of archives outside of the National Archives. King's College, Bodleian Library and Cambridge Library are on it so far.

    That makes sense, @CatInASuit. I figured there had to be some kind of fee involved. Thank you for the advice. I'm imagining the wait time is pretty significant given how much they must get requests (at least for the larger archives). Is that true?

    @Jackie, thanks for the advice. I think that would be a good thing for me to do anyway. I need to work on figuring out what I need to know or I'll just keep swimming in this endless pool of information.

    @Kindler, I hope that's the case! I've been re-watching Friends recently and I'm thinking of Ross always trying to talk about paleontology with his very uninterested friends.

    @tirial, that's awesome! (That museum looks amazing too.) I think I might have to start looking around to see if I can find small museums pertaining to my subject.

    Thanks again, everyone!
  7. jessica

    jessica Active Member

    If you can share what the subject is, we may be able to help:cool:. After all, there are a lot of British users on the board:D.
  8. PageTurner

    PageTurner Member

    Excellent point! I'm doing a generational series so it covers quite a bit of time. It would date from approximately 1471 - 1603. It's about a noble family (The Howards) who were primarily situated in Norfolk. So, anything about their family, "country" life in Norfolk, court life in those periods, costume, etc., would be awesome.
  9. tirial

    tirial IT fixer extraordinaire

    Ok, the Yorks, the Tudors, and the Howards/FitzAlan-Howards. You don't choose small topics, do you! You've probably already seen books like "The Dukes of Norfolk" by their official historian which cover things better than I can. Not many people cover the family between 1572 and the Duke's restoration in 1660, so your book could be a really interesting read.
    PageTurner likes this.
  10. jessica

    jessica Active Member

    Isn't the Duke of Norfolk based in Arundel in Sussexo_O, or hadn't they moved from Norfolk yet?o_O
  11. PageTurner

    PageTurner Member

    @tirial, I know, I know. It's a serious problem. I just couldn't pick one so I decided to pick all of them. How surprising that I'm eternally stuck in the research phase, huh? It's ambitious but I'm hoping that it'll pay off. Either way, I'm learning a ton. I've read that book and others by official historians. I've been having fun reading some histories written by indie authors too.

    @jessica, that's a fail on my part! I just had Norfolk on the brain, I guess. I totally meant to put Sussex. That's about 300+ years before my series would start. How embarrassing. :oops:
  12. Kindler

    Kindler Active Member

    English history and places - good luck with that. Especially as people keep moving around and reusing all the names again.

    If it makes you feel better, I always thought Leeds castle was by Leeds, Yorkshire. It's not, it's next to Leeds, a small village in Kent. I used to get confused as to how someone can visit it as a day trip from London in a few hours.

    Go figure.
  13. Gemini

    Gemini Member

    That's an ambitious project, @PageTurner! Do you have any specific people that you're hoping to reach out to? Claire Ridgway, an unofficial historian who runs the site The Anne Boleyn Files, is very responsive to emails. A friend of mine was doing a project on the Tudors and discussed various aspects of the time period with her.
  14. tirial

    tirial IT fixer extraordinaire

    That's my problem with writing. It involves all this interesting reading, and sometimes it is too interesting to want to stop and put my own pen to paper!
  15. PageTurner

    PageTurner Member

    Oh, I know. You would think that with all of the biblical names out there, they would have been able to come up with some more original names. Clearly they didn't think about the people who would be studying them later on.

    I actually made that same mistake with Leeds at one point too.

    I've been to that site several times. I never thought about reaching out to her. Thanks for the tip!

    Haha, yes, exactly! Research turns into another form of procrastination...at least it's a useful one though!
  16. Gemini

    Gemini Member

    No problem! I asked my friend if she had any suggestions for reaching out to Claire and she said to make sure that you get all of your questions out in one go. She seems to be better about responding to new inquiries rather than maintaining a conversation. Obviously, the more details you include, the better!
  17. jessica

    jessica Active Member

    Um...Leeds castle isn't by Leedso_O? Oops:oops:.
  18. PageTurner

    PageTurner Member

    Thanks, @Gemini. I sent her an email a few days ago, so I'm hoping to hear back from her soon! Thank your friend for me too!

    @jessica, crazy right? When my mom told me she was visiting Leeds Castle in Kent I was very confused and had to look it up. It's something new every day. Apparently they just weren't very creative when naming places or people back then.
  19. Terry

    Terry Member

    Good luck with that, hope you get a good response back.

    Most of the English ones aren't too bad, but its when you get the same names in the UK and the USA that throw me. Birmingham is definitely a city in the UK and not in Alabama. ;)
  20. PageTurner

    PageTurner Member

    Thanks, @Terry.

    Ha, I guess we're used to that over here. I pretty much always assume that cities around here are named after cities elsewhere. I live near Jamestown and the British influence is super evident. Some of the town names around here: Hampton, Suffolk, Norfolk, and Portsmouth. Then we have streets with names like Northampton and Cromwell.

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