April 26, 2010

Guest author Blythe Gifford: “You had to research what?”

Not long ago, I was having a conversation with a friend and fan about my May release, HIS BORDER BRIDE. She asked me with sincere interest “What did you have to research?”

The answer, of course, goes far beyond the expected of dates, kings, political and military history, and clothing. Here are just a few of the things I had to chase down in an effort to get the authentic feel for life on the Scottish border in the 14th century.

I’ve added just a hint of how I used each one – or didn’t -- in the final manuscript.

The coat of arms of John of Eltham. Blessedly easy. Thank goodness for Wikipedia. My hero is the illegitimate son of this brother of King Edward III of England and as such, he was entitled to wear his father’s arms.

In the book: My hero is wearing the surcoat with the arms in the opening scene, and there is an important action specifically related to them. I ended up not describing the design at all, but only referring to the colors. Still, it was important to me to be able to picture them clearly.

How to clean chainmail. Put it in a barrel of clean sand and roll the barrel down the hill. Really.

In the book: I could not figure out how they would have found clean sand in the Border hills, so I compromised. This entire exploration ended up as literally six words: “patiently polishing an individual iron link.”

The recipe for a 14th century Scottish after dinner drink. No whisky in the 14th century, I discovered, which lead me to brogat, a honey-mead sort of drink that includes cinnamon. But it wasn’t called cinnamon in the 14th century. Cinnamon was called cannelle then and it was very costly and came in pieces, not ground into powder. (Can you see the happy hours fly by on Google as I write these words?)
In the book: The drink is consumed throughout and I did incorporate the specifics of the ingredients into a scene late in the book as a bone of contention between the heroine and a secondary character.

An old French insult. I love the internet. There’s actually a website that lists old French insults.

In the book: Watch for Lichieres pautonnier, which is translated as “wicked evildoer” but has much more insulting connotations. (Be careful how you use it. Thems fightin’ words.)

Medieval sheep farming in the Cheviot Hills. Much of the lord’s income came from selling the sheep’s wool, so I needed to know how they were raised, where they were pastured, and so on. (No Border collies in the middle ages. Not until much later.) In fact, the now famous Cheviot sheep breed came later, too. I’m sure you’ll be interested to know, since you won’t learn it from my book, that the sheep were small, perhaps knee-high, with “high-set prick ears.”

In the book: There are a few vague references to sheep.

So, what about you? As writers, have you ever chased an obscure fact? And as readers, what details seem to really pull you into the world? I’ll give a copy of HIS BORDER BRIDE to one lucky commenter.

Thanks to Anna Kathryn for having me here. You can read an excerpt from HIS BORDER BRIDE on my website, http://www.blythegifford.com/.
BLYTHE GIFFORD is the author of five medieval romances from Harlequin Historical. She specializes in characters born on the wrong side of the royal blanket. With HIS BORDER BRIDE, she crosses the border and sets a story in Scotland for the first time, where the rules of chivalry don’t always apply. Here’s a brief description:

Royal Rogue: He is the bastard son of an English prince and a Scotswoman. A rebel without a country, he has darkness in his soul.

Innocent Lady: Daughter of a Scottish border lord, she can recite the laws of chivalry, and knows this man has broken every one. But she’s gripped by desire for him—could he be the one to unleash the dangerous urges she’s hidden until now?

She loves to have visitors at http://www.blythegifford.com/ or www.facebook.com/BlytheGifford or www.twitter.com/BlytheGifford.

Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ®and T are trademarks of Harlequin Enterprises Limited and/or its affiliated companies, used under license. Copyright 2010

29 comments:

Debra St. John said...

Hi Blythe!

I am nearly to the end of "His Border Bride" and I am thoroughly enjoying it. Your historic details are so authentic, but subtle, as to not detract from the romance of the story.

I'm going to curl up with the last 50 or so pages tonight!

Molly said...

Right now, I'm trying to get pictures of a park that was destroyed during WWII. It was rebuilt but looks nothing like it did. Even the name is different. Ann Perry's Victorian mysteries always pull me in. I feel like I'm in the kitchen buttering toast. And I liked what you said about having to research so much to write just a few words. If it doesn't come naturally to the author, it doesn't come naturally from the character and, yes, that would knock a reader right out of the story. Besides, some of this stuff is actually fun! Have you ever tried mead???? Mine was Irish and had no cinnamon. Either way, do not attempt castle stairs after a few glasses of that stuff!

Molly said...

Right now, I'm trying to find pictures of a park that was destroyed in WWII. The park was rebuilt but, as it is now, it bears no resemblance to what was there before. Even the name has changed. I've always been impressed by Ann Perry's Victorian mysteries. I feel like I'm sitting in the kitchen buttering toast. It is amazing to me how, as you said, you have to KNOW the subject really well before you can write those six words. It has to come as naturally to you as it would for the character and, yes, that does take work!

Karen Dale Harris said...

Blythe-

Thank goodness for the internet. I've spent hours combing sites for facts on subjects ranging from the Rosetta Stone to the kabbalah to the taste of quince. I knew I didn't know much about those subjects. But I've found the greater research challenge is identifying the things I think I know but really don't. I wince at the thought of including unintended, albeit innocent, inaccuracies.

Donna Goode said...

I'm amazed at the obscure details that must be discovered to make our books authentic. I spent months chasing down the location of the bridges across the Ashley River, Charleston, S.C. during the pre-Revolutionary War era. If you get that one detail wrong then you're spotted as someone who failed to do their homework and the story will be dismissed out of hand. We research such lovely details as how household sewage was disposed of...well, you get the gist. What am I saying?!? You KNOW the gist! Thanks for a great post, Blythe. I can't wait to read your book!

Blythe Gifford said...

Debra: Thanks for your kind words! Wild Wedding Weekend is in my TBR stack. Molly, I actually have a scene in the book of a character trying to navigate those spiral, castle stairs after one too many. No handrails in the 14the century! (And yes, it IS fun!) Karen: It IS hard to know what you DON'T know. If you work ih a time period long enough, you get a feel for it, but I almost used the word "ego" in an early book. Took awhile to register that it was NOT a medieval concept!

Blythe Gifford said...

Donna: Every once and awhile, I think that no one is ever going to know whether it's right or not, but then I realize that I will know and I return to the search. Glad you liked the post. Hope you enjoy the book!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Blythe,
My own favorite research for a series I'm writing included a trip to Hawaii to learn all about the Big Island, the Volcanoes National Park, Hilo, the charter schools and growing orchids. We combined an anniversary trip there with my research. What fun!!!
I may need a return trip to refresh my memories :-)
Sherry

Blythe Gifford said...

Sherry: I'm so jealous! A trip to Hawaii has been on my want-to-do list for years. Perhaps setting a story there is what I need...

Chelsea B. said...

I was writing this scene in a book, and I sware I spent the longest time trying to find the type of motorcycle that ran the fastest! But in books, what really gets me interested is my favorite setting: Scotland!

Blythe Gifford said...

Can't tell you a thing about motorcycles, but at least I can help with the Scottish setting!

Keena Kincaid said...

I'd say I feel your pain, Blythe, but I know you love all that research. I do, too. And now I'm off to find the connotation of Lichieres pautonnier. If thems afightin' words, I want to make sure I use them properly.

Jennie Marsland said...

Hi Blythe, this book sounds intriguing! And isn't research fun? I've had to look up the items a Civil War ambulance corpsman would carry in his kit, and the machinery found in a Victorian woollen mill in Yorkshire. I love it all.

J K Maze said...

What a fascinating post. With all that "learning" you had to do, you might qualify for a PhD by now.

I read the excerpt and loved it. It's going on my list.

Joan K. maze

Blythe Gifford said...

Keena knows my dirty little secret. I do love the research. Jennie, you know exactly what I mean. It's sort of like a collector's treasure hunt, isn't it? Joan, so glad you liked the excerpt. That's, after all, the most important thing: that the story touches readers.

Carol L. said...

Hi Blythe,
I really enjoyed your interview and post.His Border Bride is definitely going on my TRL. I love History and since I'm only a readers I don't have to research for authenticity.
But I do love to research anything about WW2 and All of Scotland starting with the 1700's.I LOVE, Scottish Highlanders :)
Lucky4750@aol.com

Sarah M. Anderson said...

I'm surprisingly up-to-date on the only native species of endangered black-tipped ferrets in South Dakota and the prairie dogs they eat--which entails a lot of political wrangling with ranchers, environmentalists, etc.

Lyndee said...

One of my characters is a native of Samoa who's learned how to predict weather patterns by using an ancient method of reading clouds gleaned from study with his great grandfather. This required researching Samoan culture as well as learning about tides. Of course, I used the internet, but also went as far as exchanging emails with the former commander of a US Naval ship! Overall, after what would amount to weeks of research, I synthesized my findings into about four key sentences! But they are powerful sentences that express a connection with the past, family, and nature.

Allison Chase said...

Hi Blythe! His Border Bride sounds wonderful! I researched sheep farming too for my very first book, Most Married, that I wrote as Lisa Manuel. My current release had me researching EVERYTHING about Bath, from the thermal waters to what lay beneath the city, to how the river weir worked. Also, I delved into 19th C financial scams. Lots of research, but I loved every minute of it!

Allison Chase said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Virginia said...

Oh this sounds like an awesome story and I would love to read it. Love the cover! I have not read your books before and would love too! Do you enjoy the research part of writing?

lead[at]hotsheet[dot]com

Sheri Humphreys said...

Blythe, like you I love doing research, but it is mind boggling how much time you can spend on some tiny historical item. I spent several hours learning about writing implements in the 1800's and ended up with my character laying his "pen next to the crystal and brass inkwell".
Yes, thank God for the internet. We would've been living in libraries 50 years ago. I can't even imagine typing out a novel -- mistake free - on a typewriter. We're so accustomed to effortless rewrite/editing of documents and instant reference sources.

Blythe Gifford said...

Carol: Thanks for stopping by. Hope you can enjoy Scottish lowlanders of the 1300's, too! Sarah and Lyndee - now I wouldn't know where to begin on ferrets or Samoan weather forecasting. But I think it's true that some of the research shows up in the book, but not in the obvious ways. It informs the rest of the story.

Blythe Gifford said...

Allison - everything about Bath! I bet there's an embarrassment of riches. When do you ever stop researching?! Virginia, yes, I do enjoy it. But I hope the readers enjoy it, too. Not the research itself, but the feeling of being there. Sheri, even if you don't end up putting specifics in the book, I think it helps to KNOW, just as I could see the coar of arms I didn't describe to the reader.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Blythe, I so agree with you on research. Getting all the details helps ground me for writing the story. I need to know much more about the subject than I include in the book because those details help me "feel" what the character experiences.

As a reader, I tolerate a few anachronisms if the story has pulled me in. However, I remember tossing one well-known historical writer's book when she had the third anachronism in as many chapters. I felt she cheated her readrs through her laziness in research.

Your book sounds intriguing and will definitely go on my TBR list.

Saskia Walker said...

I love your list of research topics, Blythe. What a fun idea to list them! My latest novel led me to research beekeeping in the 18th Century and what a deserted lighthouse might be like inside, among many other subjects. That's what so great about writing, it keeps us learning.


His Border Bride is on my tbr list!

Blythe Gifford said...

Caroline - thanks for your comments. It's nice to know readers care when we sweat the details. Saskia - it's true we do have to be curious to write, I think.
Thanks again to each of you who stopped to comment. Glad you enjoyed the post. I had fun writing it!

Blythe Gifford said...

Carol L - You won a copy of HIS BORDER BRIDE! Thanks to Anna Kathryn, and all of you, for a wonderful chat!

Blythe Gifford said...

Carol L - You won a copy of HIS BORDER BRIDE! Thanks to Anna Kathryn, and all of you, for a wonderful chat!