This panel was a question and answer session.
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.
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?
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.