I am working on a manuscript of historical fiction and plan on traveling to the sites associated with my tale (Wales). I was wondering if you had any advice you could share as to how you visit the places in your stories. How do you absorb/experience them in a way that you take into your writing? Given your current travels in France, I thought this would be a particularly opportune time to ask.
I recently received this e-mail from a reader:
Because of the travel complications this spring (due to volcanic ash), I had to consider the possibility of finishing the novel I’m working on now without travel research. I’d done quite a bit of research on my last trip, and I thought it might be possible to manage, given how much is available on-line.
We’ll be back home in Canada in a few days, and once my head clears, I’ll dive into writing the third draft. I’m already dizzy with the realization of how much will need to be changed due to the “on-the-ground” research I’ve done.
When I started travel research for the first of the Josephine B. Trilogy, I was overcome with the feeling of presence. “Josephine walked here.” Experiencing a character’s tangible reality was important to me … and it continues to be, for every book I write. Having a feel for a character’s physical world gives me a certain authority when writing.
But also, for me, it’s a lot about logistics: how did she get from here to there? What were the dimensions of her world?
In other words, facts of the type that are difficult to convey in print.
I also find that there can be wonderful books available in museums that are difficult to discover otherwise. I always check the children’s section, as well. This trip, I found a wonderful illustrated children’s book on the building of Versailles. Since Versailles was in the process of being built during the period I’m writing about, this was a find!
On the practical side, I find it important to wear a (not very flattering) “fanny pack” with all my tools easily at hand: camera (well charged), pencil, notepad, map, money, etc.
This trip I discovered that a recording device is indispensable. (Sometimes I’ll have a camera in one hand, and the recording device in the other.)
I photograph display information that I can then put into Evernote (which then become searchable). I photograph street signs and spots on a map so that I know, once home, what the photographs following are of.
Creating a special map with Google map has been a very helpful on-line tool for keeping track of all the sites relevant to this novel.
I hope this helps! I’d love to hear from others about their travel research tips.
For more on my research process and research in general, go to On Research.