Swoon Author Cindy Anstey: Getting It Right – The fun of historical research

A post in which Cindy Anstey discusses the necessity of studying historical norms such as the tendency for long convoluted subtitles in the 19th century 

It is fortunate that I love social history; I can’t imagine writing a novel that takes place in a different time period and not being interested in the whys and wherefores of their daily lives.

You can’t have a character sitting in a cozy bath in the early 19th century without knowing that the water would have been drawn from a well, heated on the stove/fire and then transferred to the tub… where it would cool quickly. It was little wonder that spot washing was the order of the day. And so there will be no sitting in a steamy bath, crying and eating chocolate for my heroine when life goes astray.

My definition of social history is probably not the one you will find in the dictionary. To me, social and cultural history encompasses the everyday. Did they have ice or more importantly ice-cream? How did they clean their teeth… or wipe their bottoms? At what speed did a carriage travel? The list could go on forever… and it does.

There are books by the hundreds covering every topic imaginable as it pertains to the 19th century. For Love, Lies and Spies I concentrated on researching the Napoleonic Wars—besides the etiquette of the Ton, of course. For Duels & Deception, I spent more time researching Bath, pistols and rules for duels.

And then, after having learned that toothpowder was an abrasive with bicarbonate of soda in it and that scrap paper—especially torn up newspaper and letters—or leaves and moss were used for toilette paper, I threw away almost all of the facts. Only that which informed the reader about setting or characters remained. And yet, the newly acquired bulk of knowledge sat in the back of my mind and in the background of the book, coloring every scene.

Authenticity is not about spouting historical facts but incorporating them in the narrative. Don’t make your character describe carriage steps, have her trip over them. Still, you might find something so irresistibly fun that you can’t help but include it in each and every chapter… such as the 19th century tendency for long convoluted subtitles!

Author spotlight

Cindy Anstey

Cindy Anstey spends her time writing and adventuring around the world. She has lived on three continents, had a monkey ...

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