Sandra Gulland, author of "Mistress of the Sun" is guest blogging today!

7:48 AM

The ups and downs of historical research

Becoming a historical novelist entails a great deal of research — love of research is perhaps the first important requirement. There are tremendous benefits: one can justify the purchase of quite a few books, for example. One of my favorite Sunday morning activities is "cruising" the on-line shops, looking for bargains, and ordering a hand-full of books. Then, of course, there is the pleasure of receiving the packages in the mail: it's like a birthday, every day.

And then, of course, there is the pleasure of reading these books. Some excite me so greatly I dare not read them before bedtime. (I've made it a rule not to read a book before sleep that sends me scrambling for notepaper and a highlighter.)

But there are down-sides, serious down-sides, to historical research. One is simply technical: recording notes onto computer can take a very long time, and I tend to put it off.

But the most serious down-side of doing research is that I can no longer watch a historical movie or read a novel set in the period I'm researching without grumbling: "What's she doing in the market without a hair-covering?" "The Queen would never have sat on the floor with a valet!" "But Madame de Maintenon never invited people to her house (while in charge of the King's bastard babies)." And so forth . . .

I think the problem is that I (or anyone in my position) form a fantasy, a dream, from what I read – and when confronted with a different interpretation, it's not only annoying, it can make me quite angry.

Here is a list of historical novels I adore and admire.

* A Walk with Love and Death, by Hans Koning

* Coal Black Horse, by Robert Olmstead

* Conceit, by Mary Novik

* Enemy Women, by Paulette Jiles

* Music & Silence, by Rose Tremain

* Santa Evita, by Tomas Eloy Martinez

* The Blue Flower, by Penelope Fitzgerald

* The Boys in the Trees, by Mary Swan

* The Ghost of Monsieur Scarron, by Janet Lewis

* The Hummingbird's Daughter, by Luis Alberto Urrea

* Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen

* Year of Wonders; a Novel of the Plague, by Geraldine Brooks

Note that only one of these novels — The Ghost of Monsieur Scarron — is set during the Court of the Sun King. However, the world of this (wonderful) novel, is entirely of the working class — not of the Court, and so I could read it with delight . . . and without my mental editor protesting.

I will continue to persevere, however. Suggestions welcome!


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