I refer, of course, to the age-old question: How much research is enough? How much do I do?
The answer is equally inexact: I never stop.
For the past weeks, I’ve been researching–and this is above and beyond everything I already know and am researching about the politics, society and military matters of a place–a small city in Austria.
So what do I look for?
Spatial awareness is always vital, I find. I like street maps dating to within a decade or so of the date I’m writing about, so I can work out the exact route my character(s) would have taken. I like etchings and plates too, coloured or not doesn’t much matter. These can give a sense of the flora of a place, the texture of the buildings, how tall they were, what kinds of roofs they had, what kinds of windows and doors.
Were there mews, or arches from the street to the rear stables? I like to know the local building materials, the local architectural quirks, how they built their roads, what the planting season was and what they were likely to be growing.
I read journals too that will give me details about modes of transport, how long journeys took, what the roads and inns were like, what the weather was and how they coped or didn’t cope with it.
Then I need the surrounding events: Were there any significant fires in the city? What were the local employment figures? The local industries? Had the town or village survived any recent trauma, like a battle, nearby? How would this have marked the place? Had the place been under siege, were there cannon balls or musket balls lodged in the fabric of the buildings?
And it goes from there…there are always portraits, which can tell you a great deal. For England, there are watercolours of many interiors–this was a popular pastime in the early 19th century and so we can see exactly how they laid out their rooms, the colours they chose, the fabrics, everything.
And of course, I pick the brains of anyone who has lived in a place, or travelled there…I ask endless questions. And I listen.
Then, an hour or two spent with an architectural dictionary is always time well used…it allows me to write of a thing accurately.
And so, how much is enough? However much will allow me to write it accurately, to paint a scene for my readers so that they too are standing in the street on a dawn-washed cold morning in mid-October beside a boy as he waits for a lone tabby to scuttle past him. A boy about to break into another house…about to…
No. That would be telling.