Research panel

This panel was a question and answer session.

Panelists: Anthony Dalton, Jack Whyte, Anne Perry, Diana Gabaldon, Susanna Kearsley

Q: Is it okay to use unusual names? e.g. in a historical novel set in Poland, the names are strangely spelled and not pronounced how a North American audience would be familiar with.

JW: If it’s appropriate to the historical setting, keep them.

DG: Find out how the names are treated in the time and culture you’re writing about.  e.g. Black Brian, or Mac Dubh.  Use nicknames or short forms.

AP: Are they named by profession, by an attribute?

SK: Have an outsider character learn how to pronounce the name.  Readers will remember after.

Q: How do you organize your research?

DG: I’ll have sticky tabs in the books I use for research and refer to them when necessary.

AP: I do much the same.

SK: I get documents from the archives (note: Susanna Kearsley used to be a museum curator) and organize them into binders, probably because I’m the daughter of an engineer.

AP: I find that most of the research I use in a first draft is later redacted.

JW: I recommend Scrivener (about $40).  It’s excellent for organizing your research, though it does fall down a bit in the final formatting of a manuscript.  Simply export to MS Word.

Q: How do you get translations?

SK: Try French translators, call your local university, see if they have a translation department, etc.

AD: French immersion teachers are also a good resource.

DG: Is it critical to the story?

AP: Don’t tell people what they don’t need to know.

Q: What gets questioned?

DG: Once you are immersed in the time period, you know what is likely to have happened.

AP: Research is often borne out.  In some cases, my educated guesses have later turned out to be correct.

SK: Historians can leave holes – they are bound by facts, or the lack of them.  Writers have to fill in the holes.

JW: Historians cannot speculate.

Q: Would it be okay to spell Welsh phonetically?

SK: Have an outsider character to help interpret.

DG: Language consists of three things: accent, dialect, and idiom.  For the Outlander series, they are conducting Gaelic classes.

AP: In practice, though signs might have Gaelic and English, few people actually speak Gaelic anymore.

JW: Rhythm is important.  Cadence.

AD: I researched an ocean crossing and read three accounts by three London travellers.  They were all different in spelling, etc.

Q: How do you pick out the pertinent bits?

SK: History is curated.  People save what they think is beautiful, or what has value to them.  Go back to the contemporary record, if possible.

The Daughter of TimeJosephine Tey.

Q: What if you’re dealing with several different languages?

DG: You bring in a translator.

SK: You use a dictionary, or you bring in an outsider.

JW: Tarzan of the Apes is an excellent interpretation of what it might be like to teach oneself a language.

SK: Another great example is The 13th Warrior.  There is a campfire scene where the camera pans around the Vikings and Antonio Banderas’s character catches a few words each round until suddenly, he understands what they’re saying.

Q: Who is the most interesting person you’ve researched that you haven’t written about?

AP: Torquemada.

SK: John Thomson.  He almost bankrupted Britain in the 1700s.  He told everyone a different story about what happened.

DG: Joseph Brant.

JW: William Paterson.  Founded the Bank of England and a Panamanian colony for the Scottish.  The colony was blockaded and eventually disappeared, though there is a native group who still paint themselves in tartan patterns.

Q: Whose diary would you like to fictionalize?

JW: Casca, the first man to stab Caesar.

AP: Faucher (?) He had albino genes. French Revolution.  The Butcher of Nantes.

DG: Thomas Paine.

SK: Geoffrey Plantagenet.

AD: Sir John Franklin.

Q: How do you find your research?

JW: Get to know the librarian in charge of the humanities section of your local public or university library, and ingratiate yourself shamelessly.

SK: Google Books.

Q: What are your favourite books to read?

SK: Diana Gabaldon and Nevil Shute.

JW: Roger Zelazny.  Really, it depends on how I feel when I get up in the morning.

AP: G. K. Chesterton’s poetry or crime writers like Michael Connelly.

DG: Celtic crime writers like Ian Rankin and Phil Rickman.