I have to admit research is not my strong suit. For this reason, even though I adore historical fiction, I have yet to write a single one. To help fill this gap in my blog's content, I've invited my Liquid Silver Books pub-buddy over for a chit-chat. Without further ado, I'll cede the stage to Jessica Cale.
P.S. She's giving away a 7' Kindle Fire,
so don't forget to scroll all the way down!
Don’t be afraid of primary sources
by Jessica Cale
When you’re researching your project, sources are key. Don’t give into the temptation of pulling information from dodgy websites when it’s just as easy to get it straight from the source. This really applies to writing historical fiction. Many writing guides will advise you not to do too much research for your historical romance, but let me assure you, there is no such thing. While you shouldn’t let your research slow down the narrative, it is crucial to do the work to create a world that feels real.
Although there are history books available on just about every subject, you don’t have to rely on other authors to digest the information for you. Primary sources can be great for anecdotes and providing an overall sense of the period and the language. You will get closer to the way your characters would have spoken by reading the letters of their contemporaries than reading Wikipedia entries.
Primary sources don’t have to be daunting. Source books can be found for many periods and these can be a great place to start if you’re looking for a roundup of the people writing at the time without limiting all of your research to one perspective. If you find something useful in a history book you’re reading, check the footnotes and bibliography to trace it back to its original source. Chances are, the original source will have more to say about it than the piece that made it into the final book.
You can also look for collections of letters written by people in the period. Letters can provide a more personal, human angle than history books. When I was researching my new book, The Long Way Home, one of the sources I used was Elizabeth Charlotte Duchesse d’Orleans’ translated Memoirs of Louis XIV and His Court and of the Regency. Does this look like a scary academic text book? Yes, but the contents are very accessible. It’s like reading the gossipy notes and diary of a snarky woman who just happens to have intimate access to some of the most famous people in history. She has something to say about everyone! How else would we know that the Queen’s makeup artist was called “the repairer of the Queen’s face” or the Duc de Sully was “subject to frequent fits of abstraction” and once made it all the way into church before he noticed he didn’t have any pants on?
Here’s one of my favorite anecdotes:
“A village pastor was examining his parishioners in their catechism. The first question in the Heidelberg catechism is this: “What is the only consolation in life and in death?” A young girl, to whom the pastor put this question, laughed, and would not answer. The priest insisted. “Well, then,” said she at length, “if I must tell you, it is the young shoemaker who lives in the Rue Agneaux.”
And people think history is boring!
It’s little details like these that you won’t find in many history books, but they will help you to get a grasp on the period and will make it come alive for your readers. The next time you are researching something in the past, look to the primary sources to breathe some life into your history.
“Really brilliant writing that's so engaging with such endearing characters! I especially love the way Jack and Alice are both so devoted to each other! I was totally absorbed in this exciting and fascinating world Jessica Cale created from the very first paragraph to the last! I read this all in one sitting, staying awake late to finish, just had to!” – Romazing Reader
Add to Goodreads
Save 20% when you pre-order with Liquid Silver Books
The Long Way Home
THE SOUTHWARK SAGA, BOOK 3
by Jessica Cale
A paranoid king, a poison plot, and hideous shoes…it’s not easy being Cinderella.
After saving the life of the glamorous Marquise de Harfleur, painfully shy barmaid Alice Henshawe is employed as the lady’s companion and whisked away to Versailles. There, she catches King Louis’ eye and quickly becomes a court favorite as the muse for Charles Perrault’s Cinderella. The palace appears to be heaven itself, but there is danger hidden beneath the façade and Alice soon finds herself thrust into a world of intrigue, murder, and Satanism at the heart of the French court.
Having left his apprenticeship to serve King Charles as a spy, Jack Sharpe is given a mission that may just kill him. In the midst of the Franco-Dutch war, he is to investigate rumors of a poison plot by posing as a courtier, but he has a mission of his own. His childhood friend Alice Henshawe is missing and he will stop at nothing to see her safe. When he finds her in the company of the very people he is meant to be investigating, Jack begins to wonder if the sweet girl he grew up with has a dark side.
When a careless lie finds them accidentally married, Alice and Jack must rely on one another to survive the intrigues of the court. As old affection gives way to new passion, suspicion lingers. Can they trust each other, or is the real danger closer than they suspect?
The palace was quiet, and he imagined most of the residents were away at meals of their own, or perhaps watching His Majesty do something else inane. The enormous rooms were dim, the lesser used ones only half-lit by candles. The marble walls appeared to glow warm with some internal fire, and the gods and monsters in the oil-painted ceilings seemed more alive in the semi-darkness.
Versailles was at its best when it couldn’t be clearly seen. By daylight, the rooms were too garish, too heavily embellished to be tasteful, but alone in the night, Jack could have believed he was sneaking through some secret corner of heaven.
As if to underline this point, Alice’s door opened and she slipped out of the darkness like a divine vision, the only sound she made the whisper of her skirts sweeping against the door. Her dress was the deepest midnight blue trimmed with gold lace, the muted shine of the silk like a moonlit night. Her hair had been arranged carefully and ornamented with three dazzling gold stars above her left ear. She was wearing less powder than she often did, and she looked more like the Alice he knew, only dressed splendidly as a goddess of the night.
She gasped when she saw him standing there, leaning in the arch of the doorway. He hadn’t realized he had done it, but some part of him must have known he needed the support to look at her. She looked him over slowly, bashfully, and her face did not reflect any of Achille’s earlier disappointment. Her eyes appeared to be a hazy gray in the dim corridor, and were so beautiful they were almost painful to look at. It was not disappointment he saw in those eyes, but something altogether more confusing. Was it guilt? Apprehension?
Dear God, it might be lust.
He wondered if her room was empty, and if she had tied her corset with the knot he’d shown her. He knew he could have her dress off in a matter of moments. Just one little tug and her corset would follow, and she’d be in his arms and very nearly his. Jack felt his temperature rise for the second time that night.
If she was a murderer, she must be very good at it. She could have his own knife out of his boot and between his ribs before he could pull his gaze away from her lips.
Remembering himself, he straightened and bowed deeply. He offered her his arm. “My lady.”
Alice took it without a word, flipping open a painted fan with her other hand, fanning her face as they began to walk. Jack was tempted to ask if he could borrow it for a moment. Lord knew he needed to cool down.
They walked slowly together through the dim rooms, the only sound the click of his boot heels and the swish of her skirts. The candlelight gave her face a lovely, rosy glow, but he had seen enough of her that afternoon to know that every inch of her skin really was flawless. His gaze flitted once more to her peony-colored lips. He had kissed her once before. Dare he do it again?
As if she could read his thoughts, Alice looked up at him and he almost tripped over his own feet.
Murderer, he tried to remind himself.
His heart insisted wife.
He cleared his throat noisily. “Y-Your shoes aren’t making any noise,” he observed, and cursed himself for the ridiculous observation. He wanted to compliment her correctly, but he was afraid he would accidentally tell her she looked like something straight out of his most illicit dreams, so instead he blurted a silly comment about her shoes.
Well done, Jack.
Alice didn’t seem to mind. Instead of looking at him with the pity she probably should have felt, she grinned up at him and stopped walking. She removed her hand from his arm and, to his considerable surprise, she raised her skirts to show him the lower half of her curvy calves in silver stockings. He realized after a moment it was not her legs she was showing him, but her shoes—she was wearing a pair of flat, fluffy slippers.
They didn’t look like any slippers Jack had ever seen. They were generously cut and enveloped her little feet completely, so it appeared that instead of wearing shoes, Alice had grown the feet of a bear. Jack grinned at the ridiculous thought. “Those are fur.”
Alice nodded enthusiastically. She raised her skirts a little further and, after she checked that no one else was around, took off running through the now empty Petite Gallerie du Roi. She stopped suddenly and the slippers kept her sliding an extra several feet through the arch into the next room. She looked back at him over her shoulder, her delight plain on her lovely face. Jack laughed, the sound echoing through the cavernous palace.
Something about her running playfully made him want to go after her. The last time he had done that, he had lost control of himself completely and kissed her in the rose garden. That’s how he had ended up going to this damned supper in the first place. Still, her skirts began to shake as she ran a few more steps, and he couldn’t help it.
He chased her.
When Alice noticed him jogging behind her, her face lit up and she took off running in earnest, tearing through the empty rooms and halls as fast as her dress would allow. He chased her through them, grinning so hard his face hurt, until they reached another hall of private apartments and he caught her.
His hands closed around her waist and he spun her around in his arms, trapping her against the gold-trimmed wall. She looked slowly up at him with those devastating eyes, and he knew one thing for certain.
She had let herself be caught.
ABOUT JESSICA CALE
Jessica Cale is the award-winning author of the historical romance series, The Southwark Saga. Originally from Minnesota, she lived in Wales for several years where she earned a BA in History and an MFA in Creative Writing while climbing castles and photographing mines for history magazines. She kidnapped (“married”) her very own British prince (close enough) and is enjoying her happily ever after with him in North Carolina.