Sunday, April 17, 2011

Me and my Library Card

I haunted the library system extensively when I researched my WIP five years ago. (I had only dial-up Internet then.) My acts II and III are set in 1490 Brittany.
I read books on French history from 800 to 1700, the evolution of castle construction, and life in the Middle Ages. I read biographies of the Duchess Anne. I scoured travel guides and gleanings on Celtic culture. (Celts in Wales, Scotland, Britain and Brittany appear to be an oral culture. Archaeologists have uncovered only a few caches of gold coin and accessories, menhirs, and legends.)

I bought books on the Goddess Brigid and Druidism--some new age, some professorial.
My local bookstore sourced two Breton-English dictionaries. I joined the American Society for the Preservation of Breton, a tiny group that passionately supports the Breton movement in Brittany to preserve their language and culture. (The French Government bans the language in Breton schools.)

The Park Rapids library had a fabulous book on historical costumes. I researched castles in Brittany and chose Dinan. I studied piracy on the English Channel, the Rance River estuary, the Celtic legend of Isolde and Tristan.

For an earlier WIP, I studied steam-powered Mississippi riverboats and Army forts along the Missouri River in South Dakota. My husband collects centennial celebration books published by tiny towns in MN, ND, and SD. Great old pictures and historical information.


  1. That's an impressive amount of research, Ana! Why did you choose Brittany in 1490 in particular? Did you decide beforehand that was when it would be (and if so why?) or did the date and place come from your general reading of French history?

  2. I chose 1490 Brittany for several reasons.
    1. France gained domination over the rebellious Bretons with the marriage of Anne to Charles. I theorized this was the last era when the 'old ways' would be practiced openly.
    2. Some Akashic scholars say we reincarnate approximately every 500 years. This appealed to me, since my heroine goes back to her former life and returns with a better 'understanding' of her now life.
    3. The Celtic culture survived longer in Brittany than in parts of England. Brittany means Little Britain. Archaeological evidence and dialect comparisons prove Celts fleeing the Roman conquest crossed the Channel back into Brittany to hide out.
    4. I studied French in high school and college. So I felt I could do more justice to a French hero than a Scottish or an Irish hero.

  3. All very sound reasons! I especially like the one about the 500 year reincarnation.
    Evidently there is a lot of similarity between the Breton language and the ancient language of Cornwall (in SW England) as well as similar culture, folk tales etc.

  4. Hi Ana,

    Yep, I'm up for the 500 yr reincarnatiion theory. 1700s my favourite period! :o

    Re your research: great stuff, and even if one knows the story before penning it, with a historical there's always the sundries to consider. Fabrics worn by ranks in society etc. Pottery Vs pewter Vs silver Vs beginnings of glazed porcelain. Differing etiquette. Food etc., a minefield in itself.

    Then when the writing begins it's a case of letting the story flow with little snippits of sundry detail without it sounding more history lesson than that of escapest novel. ;)

    A true historical novelist (historian at heart)will endeavour to be accurate all things fact in order to bring their chosen period alive. Not as Paula has pointed out - from time to time - the plethora of fancy dress stories masquerading as historical novels. ;)

  5. I've heard or read that 90% of one's research is (or shoulder be) discarded when writing a historical, otherwise, as Francine says, it sounds like a history lesson, or else like the author showing off with all the info they've managed to amass!

  6. Wow, Ana, that's an impressive amount of research (made all the more so when you take a look at my entry on Tuesday;) ). I'm sure, when reading your manuscript, that the time period and customs, etc. will really come alive for the reader, as a result!

  7. Thanks, Jennifer. I'm up to Act II right now in my revising... I hope I'll get it right!

  8. Ana,

    I love libraries...and it sounds like you made good use of yours while researching. Getting historical facts and figures right is so important. From the looks of things, your story will be filled with authenticity.