Warning: Densely Populated Bookshelves

Susan Sarah here, after a particularly trying couple of weeks, and so it continues…this week there’s some guys working downstairs to install hardwood floors. Our little Westie, otherwise totally Molly_october_002_3 adorable, natch, likes to show our two geriatric parakeets that she is The Boss–long story, but trust me, a Westie with a power issue is not good for carpeting. Ahem. So the old carpet came out and hardwood is going in this time, and she’d better not puddle on that…. Anyway, it’s incredibly noisy in my house this week. Who can think up a blog on such a day?? Who can think? Luckily I had drafted a blog on research weeks ago, and I’ll dust that off and trot it out.

Did someone say research sources? Always a good topic. Susan Miranda sparked a discussion of research sources earlier this week, so I’ll return to that from a different angle, and present a basic template for a writer’s research library.

As the resident Scottish-historical author among the Word Wenches, I have written more medieval Scottish-set books than 18th and 19th century (though I’m working to catch up!), so some of the basic sources that you all discussed, which are faves for many of you but somewhat new to me, though I’m learning fast (the next batch of Sarah Gabriel novels will be set in early 19th c. Scotland, so I’ve been diligently researching and having fun in a new era). 
Knowing the expertise on this blog, among Wenches and Wenchlings alike, I won’t presume to advise on Regency research matters.

As I was looking through my own shelves for some book titles to offer up for the discussion earlier this week (Mrs. Beeton is there, as are English Country Houses, Jane Austen’s Town and Country, as well as the Mark Girouard books and Emily Hendrickson’s fantabuloso Regency Reference Book/CD, to name just a few), I realized many of these would be repetitive suggestions. So I thought I’d play around with the broader categories found in every good home research library. Some of you are historical writers just starting out with your research, and madly compiling resources, while some are more experienced historical authors with bookshelves jampacked to capacity, still madly compiling resources (it’s an addiction, I know, cuz I have it).Oxford_merton_library_vintage_1

In the course of writing a book, I begin with general sources (like histories of the place and time) and work my way through the basics (such as costumes, names, social customs) and the specifics (whatever special subjects are treated in the book, like specific historical situations, law, crafts, magic, gypsies, hawking, ships, mountaineering, whatever may be needed). As I go along, certain sources will prove so invaluable to a certain story that I’ll keep them nearby for months, while others get skimmed quickly and tossed aside (or even set back on the shelf!).  And of course it doesn’t have to be in that order, though it helps. Sometimes I’ll start out with a specific source that’s so fascinating that I want to set a story around it

Research is a solid foundation of historical fiction, but the story’s the thing, and the characters. Only a small percentage of the research I do actually ends up in the book. Some of the research reading sparks ideas for plot and characters, and some informs the writing to become a general and reliable backdrop. The bulk of the research is for me–I want to fully comprehend the world of my characters, not inundate the reader with all that I’ve learned. Saturation and immersion is beneficial for the author in the building stages of the book, though too much historical detail can obscure the story. It’s a balancing thing, and requires an intuitive feel for what’s enough, what’s too little, and what’s too much.

But where to start? If you’re lazy like me, you want the books right there–turn around, grab the book, look something up, get right back to the writing. If your research covers a more obscure topic and sources are not widely available, even on the web (I recently finished a book set in Viking Scotland, for example), tracking down some sources in used bookstores or getting them through interlibrary loan is a good idea–and again, you’ll have them right there as you write.

After years of happily accumulating sources, here are some categories of research books to own, or have quick access to–a general list, not too specific, so that you can fill in the blanks for your own needs and interests….

–General histories and broad surveys that provide overviews of whatever time period you’re interested in writing about
–Costume books, tons of ‘em, all varieties – there never enough costume books!
–Name books (also never enough! I keep a couple of favorites on my desk)
–Encyclopedic volumes of the time period and era, like the London Encyclopedia, or Keay’s Encyclopedia of Scotland
–Encyclopedical sources from that specific time period, if available (early editions of Brittanica can be found in good libraries or used; and Encyclopedia Brittanica has an 18th c. edition reprint)
–Languages and other dictionaries (like A History of Swearing)
–Foreign language dictionaries (French, Latin, Italian, Gaelic, whatever your story might need)
–The OED, or Oxford English Dictionary (you can find it in good library collections, or buy it new, find a used copy, subscribe online at www.oed.com , or borrow a friend’s copy if they’ll give it up)
–Thesaurus and/or The Synonym Finder
–Biographies of people who lived in that era, or whose lives could be models and sources of information
–Women’s studies and studies of women’s roles in society and history
–Myths, legends, and folktales
–Songs and poetry from that era
–Literature written during that time period
–Arts and specific crafts that may appear in your story (weaving, spinning, sculpture, painting, stonecarving, etc.)
–Clan histories for Scottish research (Moncrieff’s Highland Clans, R.R. MacIan, others)
–Herbals, books on healing, and medical histories
–Domestic subjects (Mrs. Beeton; cookbooks for the time period; crafts, books on servants and services, etc.)
–Information on specific skills, hobbies, and occupations (such as falconry, engineering, mountaineering, equestrian, ships, etc.)–you may need the history behind an occupation, or a how-to)
–Histories of architecture and interior design (The English Medieval House, The English Country House, Irish Georgian, etc.)
–Travelogues and travel books (like the AA series of British road books)
–Regional books (information on landscape, terrain, nature, plants, animals, seasons)
–Maps, lots of lovely maps, both historical and current for terrain, distances, place names (more AA, Ordnance Surveys, etc.)
–Place name books (these are fun to look through, and often very useful)

Did I forget anything?  Do you have any suggestions to add to this template?
There’s room for more lovely books on my shelves….

Susan Sarah

36 thoughts on “Warning: Densely Populated Bookshelves”

  1. I know you were discussing books, but in case anyone doesn’t know about them, I wanted to mention that there are some really good online resources about Scottish history available from the National Library of Scotland’s website. They’ve got an online map library (maps from the 1560s up to the 20th century: http://www.nls.uk/digitallibrary/map/index.html
    There’s an ‘online collection of nearly 1,800 broadsides [which] lets you see for yourself what ‘the word on the street’ was in Scotland between 1650 and 1910. Crime, politics, romance, emigration, humour, tragedy, royalty and superstitions – all these and more are here’ http://www.nls.uk/broadsides/index.html
    and lots more – see http://www.nls.uk/digitallibrary/index.html

    Reply
  2. I know you were discussing books, but in case anyone doesn’t know about them, I wanted to mention that there are some really good online resources about Scottish history available from the National Library of Scotland’s website. They’ve got an online map library (maps from the 1560s up to the 20th century: http://www.nls.uk/digitallibrary/map/index.html
    There’s an ‘online collection of nearly 1,800 broadsides [which] lets you see for yourself what ‘the word on the street’ was in Scotland between 1650 and 1910. Crime, politics, romance, emigration, humour, tragedy, royalty and superstitions – all these and more are here’ http://www.nls.uk/broadsides/index.html
    and lots more – see http://www.nls.uk/digitallibrary/index.html

    Reply
  3. I know you were discussing books, but in case anyone doesn’t know about them, I wanted to mention that there are some really good online resources about Scottish history available from the National Library of Scotland’s website. They’ve got an online map library (maps from the 1560s up to the 20th century: http://www.nls.uk/digitallibrary/map/index.html
    There’s an ‘online collection of nearly 1,800 broadsides [which] lets you see for yourself what ‘the word on the street’ was in Scotland between 1650 and 1910. Crime, politics, romance, emigration, humour, tragedy, royalty and superstitions – all these and more are here’ http://www.nls.uk/broadsides/index.html
    and lots more – see http://www.nls.uk/digitallibrary/index.html

    Reply
  4. There’s lots of great info on Scottish Costume as well (for those not inclined to spend $100+ on OLD IRISH 7 HIGHLAND DRESS by H. F. McClintock and J. Telfer Dunbar, which I personally could’t live without).
    http://www.reconstructinghistory.com
    Multiple pages that take you through the development of Scottish garb.
    http://www.medievalscotland.org/clothing/refs/
    Great source of historic quotes about Highland dress.
    http://www.scottishtartans.org/
    Scottish Tartan Museum.
    albanach.org/index.htm
    US extension of the Scottish Tartan Museum. Great articles and history.
    http://www.historicgames.com/Scottishstuff/scotsattire.html
    Same quotes as the other site, but with the addition of some pictures.
    http://www.lothene.demon.co.uk/index.html
    Lothene Experimental Archaeology. Great reeanctors site with lots of info and pictures.

    Reply
  5. There’s lots of great info on Scottish Costume as well (for those not inclined to spend $100+ on OLD IRISH 7 HIGHLAND DRESS by H. F. McClintock and J. Telfer Dunbar, which I personally could’t live without).
    http://www.reconstructinghistory.com
    Multiple pages that take you through the development of Scottish garb.
    http://www.medievalscotland.org/clothing/refs/
    Great source of historic quotes about Highland dress.
    http://www.scottishtartans.org/
    Scottish Tartan Museum.
    albanach.org/index.htm
    US extension of the Scottish Tartan Museum. Great articles and history.
    http://www.historicgames.com/Scottishstuff/scotsattire.html
    Same quotes as the other site, but with the addition of some pictures.
    http://www.lothene.demon.co.uk/index.html
    Lothene Experimental Archaeology. Great reeanctors site with lots of info and pictures.

    Reply
  6. There’s lots of great info on Scottish Costume as well (for those not inclined to spend $100+ on OLD IRISH 7 HIGHLAND DRESS by H. F. McClintock and J. Telfer Dunbar, which I personally could’t live without).
    http://www.reconstructinghistory.com
    Multiple pages that take you through the development of Scottish garb.
    http://www.medievalscotland.org/clothing/refs/
    Great source of historic quotes about Highland dress.
    http://www.scottishtartans.org/
    Scottish Tartan Museum.
    albanach.org/index.htm
    US extension of the Scottish Tartan Museum. Great articles and history.
    http://www.historicgames.com/Scottishstuff/scotsattire.html
    Same quotes as the other site, but with the addition of some pictures.
    http://www.lothene.demon.co.uk/index.html
    Lothene Experimental Archaeology. Great reeanctors site with lots of info and pictures.

    Reply
  7. Westies can be stubborn, can’t they? I have a cocker who has “accidents” on the rug and I’ve discovered two things that really, really work: “Nature’s Miracle” is great for avoiding stains and omitted the odor (if you can get to it in time); you get it at a pet store.
    The second GREAT discover is that if you have furniture or rugs that smell (which happens with my rugs sometimes when it is humid–I’m ashamed to tell you) try coffee. Just open the can and sprinkle and leave on for two-three days and then vacuum. You will smell coffee for about a day, and then it and any other smell will be gone.
    I’ve read that drug pushers bury their wares in coffee to mask the smell.

    Reply
  8. Westies can be stubborn, can’t they? I have a cocker who has “accidents” on the rug and I’ve discovered two things that really, really work: “Nature’s Miracle” is great for avoiding stains and omitted the odor (if you can get to it in time); you get it at a pet store.
    The second GREAT discover is that if you have furniture or rugs that smell (which happens with my rugs sometimes when it is humid–I’m ashamed to tell you) try coffee. Just open the can and sprinkle and leave on for two-three days and then vacuum. You will smell coffee for about a day, and then it and any other smell will be gone.
    I’ve read that drug pushers bury their wares in coffee to mask the smell.

    Reply
  9. Westies can be stubborn, can’t they? I have a cocker who has “accidents” on the rug and I’ve discovered two things that really, really work: “Nature’s Miracle” is great for avoiding stains and omitted the odor (if you can get to it in time); you get it at a pet store.
    The second GREAT discover is that if you have furniture or rugs that smell (which happens with my rugs sometimes when it is humid–I’m ashamed to tell you) try coffee. Just open the can and sprinkle and leave on for two-three days and then vacuum. You will smell coffee for about a day, and then it and any other smell will be gone.
    I’ve read that drug pushers bury their wares in coffee to mask the smell.

    Reply
  10. I’m thinking we all need to move to the same community and start a library so we can eliminate all these duplicates and have access to more great stuff!
    I admit, I do more and more of my research on the internet these days, but only because I’ve spent the last twenty years memorizing all these research books and all I’m usually hunting for is some small detail that’s easier to find online than paging through a book.
    But a general resource I can’t live without is my Roget’s Thesaurus, and I don’t mean that oversimplified thing they have out now. I want the one where you start at the index to find a word. Often, I can find what I want right there in the index, but when I’m groping around blindly for a word or phrase, following the index into the massive interior is a delight. Today, I just found the nautical terms I’d been hunting through books and internet sites for! I love Roget.

    Reply
  11. I’m thinking we all need to move to the same community and start a library so we can eliminate all these duplicates and have access to more great stuff!
    I admit, I do more and more of my research on the internet these days, but only because I’ve spent the last twenty years memorizing all these research books and all I’m usually hunting for is some small detail that’s easier to find online than paging through a book.
    But a general resource I can’t live without is my Roget’s Thesaurus, and I don’t mean that oversimplified thing they have out now. I want the one where you start at the index to find a word. Often, I can find what I want right there in the index, but when I’m groping around blindly for a word or phrase, following the index into the massive interior is a delight. Today, I just found the nautical terms I’d been hunting through books and internet sites for! I love Roget.

    Reply
  12. I’m thinking we all need to move to the same community and start a library so we can eliminate all these duplicates and have access to more great stuff!
    I admit, I do more and more of my research on the internet these days, but only because I’ve spent the last twenty years memorizing all these research books and all I’m usually hunting for is some small detail that’s easier to find online than paging through a book.
    But a general resource I can’t live without is my Roget’s Thesaurus, and I don’t mean that oversimplified thing they have out now. I want the one where you start at the index to find a word. Often, I can find what I want right there in the index, but when I’m groping around blindly for a word or phrase, following the index into the massive interior is a delight. Today, I just found the nautical terms I’d been hunting through books and internet sites for! I love Roget.

    Reply
  13. Pat, I love my great big hardcover Roget’s Thesaurus! And you’re right–the oversimplified ones don’t hack it. Like you, I go to the index and start from there. It is so simple to use.
    I got my copy by accident. I had bought it as a going away gift for a writer friend who was moving out of state. Before I could give it to her, however, she happened to mention in casual conversation that she’d never waste money on a thesaurus when she had a perfectly good one in her computer the came with her MS Word program.
    So I bought her something else and kept the thesaurus for myself. 🙂 It’s one of my most valuable writing tools.

    Reply
  14. Pat, I love my great big hardcover Roget’s Thesaurus! And you’re right–the oversimplified ones don’t hack it. Like you, I go to the index and start from there. It is so simple to use.
    I got my copy by accident. I had bought it as a going away gift for a writer friend who was moving out of state. Before I could give it to her, however, she happened to mention in casual conversation that she’d never waste money on a thesaurus when she had a perfectly good one in her computer the came with her MS Word program.
    So I bought her something else and kept the thesaurus for myself. 🙂 It’s one of my most valuable writing tools.

    Reply
  15. Pat, I love my great big hardcover Roget’s Thesaurus! And you’re right–the oversimplified ones don’t hack it. Like you, I go to the index and start from there. It is so simple to use.
    I got my copy by accident. I had bought it as a going away gift for a writer friend who was moving out of state. Before I could give it to her, however, she happened to mention in casual conversation that she’d never waste money on a thesaurus when she had a perfectly good one in her computer the came with her MS Word program.
    So I bought her something else and kept the thesaurus for myself. 🙂 It’s one of my most valuable writing tools.

    Reply
  16. Pat said… “I’m thinking we all need to move to the same community and start a library so we can eliminate all these duplicates and have access to more great stuff!”
    Here, Here! I’m all for that. My local library actually had several of the last set of recommended WW books. I was very surprised.
    If I may, I would like to add a book. It’s just a little one, but has meant so much to me. It’s call SWORD FIGHTING BASICS by Michael Shire and Rob Valentine. Great if you want to work out an action scene with blades bared.
    Thank you, Susan/Sarah for a good look at how research relates to the art of writing.
    –the littlest wenchling

    Reply
  17. Pat said… “I’m thinking we all need to move to the same community and start a library so we can eliminate all these duplicates and have access to more great stuff!”
    Here, Here! I’m all for that. My local library actually had several of the last set of recommended WW books. I was very surprised.
    If I may, I would like to add a book. It’s just a little one, but has meant so much to me. It’s call SWORD FIGHTING BASICS by Michael Shire and Rob Valentine. Great if you want to work out an action scene with blades bared.
    Thank you, Susan/Sarah for a good look at how research relates to the art of writing.
    –the littlest wenchling

    Reply
  18. Pat said… “I’m thinking we all need to move to the same community and start a library so we can eliminate all these duplicates and have access to more great stuff!”
    Here, Here! I’m all for that. My local library actually had several of the last set of recommended WW books. I was very surprised.
    If I may, I would like to add a book. It’s just a little one, but has meant so much to me. It’s call SWORD FIGHTING BASICS by Michael Shire and Rob Valentine. Great if you want to work out an action scene with blades bared.
    Thank you, Susan/Sarah for a good look at how research relates to the art of writing.
    –the littlest wenchling

    Reply
  19. Oh, forgot the Westie! He is so cute. I love terriers. We have a Jack Russell who thinks she the big dog in the house. (We also have a 4 month old, 50 pound German Shepard)
    btw, I’ll second Blue Angel’s ‘Nature’s Miracle.’ It really works.

    Reply
  20. Oh, forgot the Westie! He is so cute. I love terriers. We have a Jack Russell who thinks she the big dog in the house. (We also have a 4 month old, 50 pound German Shepard)
    btw, I’ll second Blue Angel’s ‘Nature’s Miracle.’ It really works.

    Reply
  21. Oh, forgot the Westie! He is so cute. I love terriers. We have a Jack Russell who thinks she the big dog in the house. (We also have a 4 month old, 50 pound German Shepard)
    btw, I’ll second Blue Angel’s ‘Nature’s Miracle.’ It really works.

    Reply
  22. Susan/Sarah – I’d say you pretty well covered the basic categories. I collect dictionaries and was thrilled to discover I can access the OED online through the Vancouver library site after we moved out here to BC.
    Pat may be onto something re us all moving to the same community – we could have a subscription library! The Sunshine Coast is quite lovely, ya know 😉

    Reply
  23. Susan/Sarah – I’d say you pretty well covered the basic categories. I collect dictionaries and was thrilled to discover I can access the OED online through the Vancouver library site after we moved out here to BC.
    Pat may be onto something re us all moving to the same community – we could have a subscription library! The Sunshine Coast is quite lovely, ya know 😉

    Reply
  24. Susan/Sarah – I’d say you pretty well covered the basic categories. I collect dictionaries and was thrilled to discover I can access the OED online through the Vancouver library site after we moved out here to BC.
    Pat may be onto something re us all moving to the same community – we could have a subscription library! The Sunshine Coast is quite lovely, ya know 😉

    Reply
  25. Re: your Westie. Heartfelt sympathies. Our late Manx cat decided late in life that using the litterbox to pee wasn’t really mandatory every time. We ended up buying a carpet steamer. Hope the hardwood proves to break his habit!

    Reply
  26. Re: your Westie. Heartfelt sympathies. Our late Manx cat decided late in life that using the litterbox to pee wasn’t really mandatory every time. We ended up buying a carpet steamer. Hope the hardwood proves to break his habit!

    Reply
  27. Re: your Westie. Heartfelt sympathies. Our late Manx cat decided late in life that using the litterbox to pee wasn’t really mandatory every time. We ended up buying a carpet steamer. Hope the hardwood proves to break his habit!

    Reply
  28. What a lovely little Westie you have. Our little Westie is named MacLeod and his is such a joy to us. Luckily, he and our kitty, Tristain, have worked out an understanding between them and we haven’t had to replace our carpeting with hardwood floors!

    Reply
  29. What a lovely little Westie you have. Our little Westie is named MacLeod and his is such a joy to us. Luckily, he and our kitty, Tristain, have worked out an understanding between them and we haven’t had to replace our carpeting with hardwood floors!

    Reply
  30. What a lovely little Westie you have. Our little Westie is named MacLeod and his is such a joy to us. Luckily, he and our kitty, Tristain, have worked out an understanding between them and we haven’t had to replace our carpeting with hardwood floors!

    Reply

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