The creative spark of research

When I fabricate a world, I create a complete reality. Whether I’m writing historical or modern-day fiction, I like my world to mirror its time. I want the dress accurate–whether sumptuous court clothing, the simple dress of field workers, or the riding outfit of a 20th century woman. I want the dishes served at court and the pottage eaten in a humble home so well-described you can almost taste them. The sociology should be correct. For example, the plague that ravished Europe and Britain in the mid 14th century resulted in profound changes in economy, society, and religious attitudes. I even want the period’s weather to be accurate, at least broadly. The period in which The Luck of Two Magpies is set marks the beginning of the Little Ice Age, a period that that extended through to the latter half of the 19th century, and I use the occasional warmer season or heat wave to signify some paranormal or time travel event.

Aside from adding richness and texture to a novel, researching facts also triggers my creativity. The following passage, one edited out of The Luck of Two Magpies, is a result of researching weather and understanding the post-plague landscape, miles of land available for farming and not as many folk to do the work.

an outtake from The Luck of Two Magpies, c. 2014

The late start to the day and the amount of work yet to be accomplished left William short-tempered. The upset of his usual routine by this woman intruder, or whatever she was, made it hard for him to concentrate. The red of apples reminded him of her lips, their fragrance, her scent. In the sparkle of sun off Penny’s mane he saw the woman’s chestnut hair as the candlelight had fired it last night. He could swear his saddle was still warm where she sat yester eve, secured in his arms. He cursed himself for his inability to focus on the day’s issues. Even that annoyed him, for Geoffrey heard him and cast a wry glance his way.

They rode the farm.

“We need more men to work these fields, Gandulf,” William insisted. “I will not lease my

Empty farmland in the north of England

Farmland in the north of England

lands to farmers. We grow wheat enough for all our people and for the selling. I want more profit, more land for the working… not less.”

“Well and so, m’lord, ye know well as me I been tryin’ to bring new blood in.” There was annoyance in his man’s snort. “Folk doan’ breed fast enough to replace all those poor souls our fathers did say found their rest in the great plague.”  His expression grew somber.

But William chafed at his circumstances. “There is gold enough to buy more land, and more than land enough for the having to expand Norburnshire’s holdings twofold or better, and that past the doubling we did do in the past five years.”

“Aye, m’lord. I understand yer point.” Geoffrey scrubbed at his scalp, sending his short hanks of brown hair flying, leaving them bristling at odd angles from his head. “I ha’ sent a few of me more…” He grinned, displaying a missing lower molar. “‘Gifted talkers’ south to see if they can not lure us any unhappy tenants from Nottingham and Surrey. Sent ‘em with contract and some coin. I hear as the three past years o’ drought and cool weather have affected ‘em mightily. May be as they might be won over to a move.”

“What did you include in your contract, Gandulf?”  William’s suspicious tone and wary stare produced only a shrug from his man.

“Fittingly, m’lord. Jus’ the same as them what’s here already gets,” Geoffrey said. “It has worked ‘afore.” Geoffrey’s brown eyes focused inward. “Promise of a roof to keep out the rain, food in yer family’s bellies, and a bit o’ what a man grows to sell for hisself makes a man glad to come, an’ your word to reward them is there a profit when all’s done and sold keeps ‘em here. Near a full fourth of our farm folk are new. They come o’er the last four years. And we been able to keep ‘em, even wi’ our own drought and odd weather.”

William was glad for the break in the drought, and for the heat this year, aberrant as it was. A longer growing season meant a bountiful crop, barring bad luck, of course. “God save us we need no bad luck,” he muttered as he thought of the loss of one of his haying wagons, the flooding of three flax fields in heavy August rains, and the more recent lightning attacks by some Scottish rabble that had lost him nearly a hundred sheep, the Spanish variety known for the softness of their wool. It galled him no end to think they’d end up as supper for some dirty clan or other.

Was the woman upstairs Scotch?  She didn’t sound like one. Mayhap a spy? That might be. Richard Angevin was diabolical enough to pluck some beauty or other from England’s gardens and send her here to win his secrets. It might be. He’d have to turn his mind to considering that in detail… after he’d seen the stone circle.

He turned Penny into the warm eastern breeze.


Next time, how research even sparks love scenes…. (whew!)

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