Loves Research by Laurie Brown, Guest Blogger

11:23 AM

Hello everyone!

Please welcome Laurie Brown author of What Would Jane Austen Do? due to be relased by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May1, 2009. I want to thank Laurie for being here today.

Loves Reasearch
by Laurie Brown

One of the things I like about writing time travels is doing the research. Although you expect historical details to add to the setting, sometimes a tiny fact can spark a scene, add something to a character, or even inspire an entire plot thread.

During my research for What Would Jane Austen Do? I discovered there is a topaz cross necklace in the Jane Austen’s House Museum at Chawton. Jane’s youngest brother Charles, a sailor, sent both his sisters topaz crosses from Spain. No one knows for sure if the necklace in the museum was Jane’s or Cassandra’s. Jane Austen fictionalized that real happening in Mansfield Park by having Fanny Price’s brother William, a naval midshipman brings her an amber cross from Sicily.

Staying with the amber cross, a la Jane, I gave my heroine Eleanor an heirloom necklace that family legend said had once belonged to Jane Austen. When Eleanor goes back in time to the Regency she’s wearing the necklace, and it ultimately serves as a conversation opener between Jane and her. The necklace serves several other purposes, but I don’t want to give away any of the plot twists.

The process Jane Austen used, taking a real incident and changing it here and there before using it in her fiction, is the same as many other writers. Some have written about the real/fiction associations, as Stephen King did in his book On Writing. Other writers have talked about it, and some of us recognize it in our own work. In WWJAD, the heroine Eleanor asks Jane Austen (in a very oblique manner because in 1814 Jane had not publicly acknowledged authoring the books) where she gets her ideas. Although it was a bit scary to put words in Jane’s mouth I kept her necklace’s real/fiction connection in mind as I wrote her explanation of the creative process. Needless to say, Eleanor is disappointed there is no real Mr. Darcy she could meet at the ball, although she finally realizes the hero, Lord Shermont, comes close.

This is the first time I’ve used a real historical figure in my fiction. And it was a bit daunting since so little factual information is known about Jane Austen and yet a huge body of apocryphal has arisen due to her popularity. When I describe what Jane Austen is wearing, it is based on her description of an actual dress taken from one of her surviving letters. The book is set just a few years before Jane Austen died (1817) at age forty-one. Although it isn’t known for sure that she died of Addison’s disease, it does seem to fit the symptoms she herself described. I was especially careful in my research concerning Jane Austen. I sincerely hope I didn’t make any mistakes.

One of the joys of research is when something totally unforeseen pops up. Because I wanted to use the word lepidopterist in a humorous bit, I set out to research butterflies so I could make my collector’s dialogue ring true. I found butterflies fascinating, unearthing way more information than I could possible use. And then the butterflies provided a benefit I had not expected. They contributed to another one of those plot threads that has a surprising twist at the end.

I enjoy learning about other time periods especially the Regency and Victorian eras. I often wonder how I would have liked living in a different time period. Maybe that’s why I write time travels. ;-)

What is your favorite time period/location? Would you go there if time travel were a reality?


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