Thursday, September 6, 2012

Guest Blogger: Jillian Stone




Train schedules, black fogs and canal systems. Oh, the joys of historical romance research!


Welcome to my world, or more accurately, welcome to the Gentlemen of Scotland Yard’s world. Because I write historical romantic suspense, I do a good deal of pre-research as I outline each story. A lot of this early research is more like a feasibility study. Since A Dangerous Liaison with Detective Lewis is a road trip romance/adventure I had a lot of questions about train schedules, terrain, timelines, and types of vehicles they might use to get from point A to point B. Example:

Question: How long did it take a train to get from London to Edinburgh in 1887?
Answer: Seven and a half hours.

Initially, I spend most of my time on the internet bookmarking websites, maps, and Wiki-pages. It seems like I’m always scrounging around for obscure bits of information I can’t find online, so I often end up purchasing reference books, as well. I have amassed a fairly substantial library on the darker, seedier side of life in late Victorian London. I take perverse pleasure in sprinkling in odd bits of world building atmosphere––a bit of black fog to “darken” the stories. It’s surprising how even the weather details of a particular period and place can play a fascinating role in storytelling.

Question: What is a London black fog? (Also known as a pea souper.)
Answer: A toxic mix of dense fog and sooty black coal smoke. Often yellowish, greenish, or blackish in color, the fog was made up of soot particulates and the poisonous gas sulfur dioxide. The thought was that as the smoke coming out of London's chimneys mixed with natural fog, the air turned colder. Londoners heaped more coal on their fires, creating more smoke and even denser fog. In A Study in Scarlet (1887) Sherlock Holmes mentions "a dun-coloured veil hung over the house-tops." These fogs could also be lethal, causing large numbers of deaths from respiratory problems.

While writing A Dangerous Liaison with Detective Lewis, I did quite a bit of research on the British canal system, and as I was surfing around the internet, it occurred to me that I might write a blog about this elaborate network of waterways. According to my notes from Wikipedia, the water transport system played a vital role in the United Kingdom's Industrial Revolution. Factoid: Among the first canal promoters were the pottery manufacturers of Staffordshire.

Britain’s Industrial period began during the mid-18th century and the canals were in full swing during the Regency period. It should be noted that the canals came into being because the Industrial Revolution demanded an economic and reliable way to transport goods and commodities in large quantities. The emerging industrial areas of the Staffordshire potteries and Birmingham pressed for a system of canals and rivers that extended to London.
The boats on the canal were horse-drawn with a towpath alongside the canal for the horse to walk along. This horse-drawn system proved to be highly economical and became standard across the canal network.
The time period I write in for The Gentlemen of Scotland Yard series is late Victorian 1887-91. By the second half of the 19th century, many canals were increasingly becoming owned by railway companies or competing with them. The canals were still in use, but were also in decline.
In A Dangerous Liaison with Detective Lewis, my characters, Detective Rafe Lewis and Fanny Greyville-Nugent are making their way from Edinburgh to London, pursued by a  private army of anti-progressive anarchists bent abducting the young industrial heiress. On the last leg of their journey, they make contact with an inventor who needs to get his experimental submersible to London for the Industrial Exposition. The trio board a train in Glasgow and travel to an ironworks in Oxfordshire, where they pick up the inventor’s submarine. (The submersible is having it’s hull reinforced and is being refitted with arc lamps for lighting.)

My story outline called for the ironworks to be located on a canal that would connect with the Thames. By Googling Ironworks, Oxfordshire, Oxford Canals, Henley on Thames, Nettlebed Wood, I found just the place that could repair and refit an experimental underwater craft: Lucy’s Ironworks.

I don’t wish to give away too much of the story, but our intrepid couple makes their way down the canal, through the locks to reach the Thames, only to...

What happens to them after that? Sorry, I’m no spoiler!

I’d like to thank Catherine Gayle for inviting me on Lady Scribes. I will be checking in throughout the day to answer questions about the canal system or any other questions you might have about world building for historical romance. I have a signed copy of A Dangerous Liaison with Detective Lewis for one lucky commenter. Let’s chat! 

Jillian Stone is the author of The Gentlemen of Scotland Yard series, which includes her debut novel and Golden Heart winner, An Affair with Mr. Kennedy. A Dangerous Liaison with Detective Lewis released September 28th and is available now. Watch for A Private Duel with Agent Gunn in late November.

The Lady Scribes and our guests always look forward to hearing your thoughts. If you would like to be entered into the drawing for a copy of Jillian Stone's A Dangerous Liaison with Detective Lewis, please include your email address. Only relevant comments adding to today’s discussion will be eligible for the drawing. US and Canada mailing addresses only.

35 comments:

  1. Welcome to Lady Scribes, Jillian! I'm with you, research and world building are some of my favorite things about writing romance. I've actually been in a canal boat in England. So soothing!

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    1. The next time I am in England I am going to spend the day on a canal boat! And I do love the research, only not when I'm on deadline!

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  2. Welcome, Jillian. Thank you so much for being with us today! I can't adequately express how I love all the facts you've dug up! I enjoy finding new little facts to share, and you've certainly done your homework. :) Your covers are so lovely too!

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    1. Hi Andris

      I love sharing world building facts and links with other historical romance authors! Aren't the covers amazing? I have been blessed by the cover gods!

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  3. Welcome to Lady Scribes, Gillian. Your books sound wonderful. I always love the research part of writing a new book!

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    1. Hi Julie!

      You have to love research if you write historical romance. There are interesting historical parallels in the period I write in as well. Lots of social unrest. The Brits were in several "wars of occupation" around the globe, London was plagued by anarchists and terrorists. A great time to set a romantic suspense novel!

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  4. Welcome back to Lady Scribes, Jill! When I do research for travel, it is usually about what sort of roads carriages could travel between two places, and how many miles it would be, so I could give a realistic amount of time for getting my characters from point A to point B. I love that your era moves into more modern forms of transportation. Great stuff. And your covers are stunning!

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    1. Hi Catherine Gayle!

      Yes! I have done some similar calculating when it comes to carriage travel. The era I write in did have a few more travel choices, everything except airplanes, anyway!

      Pocket gets a lot of props for those wonderful covers!

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  5. Hi Jill! Doing research for historicals is one of my favorite things. I adore it. I get passionate about it. I can't wait to include my findings in a story :-) Love the sound of your new book :-)
    sandra(dot)sookoo(at)comcast(dot)net

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    1. Hi Sandra!

      Me too! It's the little world building details that ground a scene and allows the reader to let go and immerse themselves in the story.

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  6. Jill ~ Wow! How fascinating. I know next to nothing about the canal system as it's so much later than the time period I write about. Your book looks amazing!

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    1. Hi Ava!

      Actually, if you write Regency, the canals were in full swing during the early part of the industrial revolution in Britain. They were actually being phased out by the late nineteenth century which is closer to my time frame.

      So you could still have a carriage wait for a drawbridge to lower over a canal if it fits your story! ;)

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    2. I tried leaving a few wiki-links in the article. They didn't all come out right but, there's a few there you might find useful.

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  7. I was excited to see that you are visiting Lady Scribes today. I think that I've entered every giveaway so far to try and win this book, without success.

    I loved how the Industrial Revolution was featured in the opening ceremony of this year's Olympics.

    I really do appreciate all the research that an author does to make her story more authentic. I love the front cover and the art work, it’s extremely eye-catching and very sensual. :-)

    Congratulations on your new release and, for this awesome opportunity.

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    1. I typo'd my own book title (duh1) so I had to redo!

      Yes, I loved the steampunky theme during the opening ceremony!
      Thanks for stopping by, and don't give up, you have many chances yet to win a copy of A DANGEROUS LIAISON WITH DETECTIVE LEWIS!

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  9. I love when an author "world builds" especially when it comes to historical facts (serious history nerd here). The industrial revolution was so vital to Europe and the rest of the world that it is stunning when an author can incorporate that into their writings. I love the traditional regencies, but I tend to get swept away by learning something new. I look forward to continuing this fantastic series you have going.
    temptnfate13 at yahoo dot com

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    1. Hi Misty H,

      Good news for Victorian period romance writers. The era appears to be catching on. Perhaps Steampunk had a bit to do with it, also the success of the Sherlock Holmes movies. Plus there are quite a few romance authors writing in the period, now. And it's a very long era: 20 June 1837 – 22 January 1901 so there is plenty of room for everybody!

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    2. I have noticed the new trend of romances which are leaning towards the Victorian era which is really neat. I would love to see someone tackle the same era but it American history unfortunately unless it's a western no one is hitting the states much lol.

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  10. Jillian, I'm so excited to read Rafe and Fanny. That's pretty cool about the research. I mean i don't really think of the research that goes into a story, but I do appreciate how the story comes alive.
    countessofmar(at)yahoo(dot)com

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    1. Hi Melody May!

      Yep. That's the whole reason to do research to help make the story come alive. I find that if I color every scene with a hint of historical world building, it assists with reader immersion into the story...but it has to be handled artfully, almost like subtext.

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  11. Welcome to Lady Scribes, Jillian! Rafe and Fanny's story sounds so exciting. I can't wait to read it. :) It was so much fun to read about 1887 travel. I'm sure they all felt very modern then while we think think traveling by rail is very romantic. :)
    PS I have no idea why I was so shocked at the thoughts of canals in London. It is, after all, a city on the water.

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    1. Hi Marquita,

      I do hope you get a chance to read Rafe and Fanny's story.

      The canal network connected with the Thames and the river Lea was "canalized" to transport goods to London. Other canals connected to ports like Liverpool.

      FYI,there are below ground rivers that flow into London, that were built over during the growth of city and flow through underground culverts.

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  12. Welcome to Lady Scribes, Jillian! I love your name btw. And I love all these facts. I think research is what makes the historical genre so much fun. Your book sounds awesome! I can't wait to read it!

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    1. Hi Suzie,


      Since I write historical romantic suspense, with detectives and undercover operatives, I get to research all kinds of obscure places from Shadwell Basin in the East End to Hatton Garden, London's jewelry district. So fascinating and fun!

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  13. Thanks for sharing about your research. It sounds fascinating.

    bn100candg(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  14. I'm late to the party, but I wanted to pop by to thank you for joining us, Jillian! I had no idea about the toxic fog *shudders*. I guess it's a good thing that I 'live' in Regency England ;). The book (or should I say books!) look wonderful!! Hopefully I can actually read it once this blasted deadline passes *grumbles*

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  15. Thanks for stopping by, Erin!

    I'm forging new ground with the Gentlemen of Scotland Yard. And you're right, the stories are much grittier than the romance version of Regency Britain!

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  16. I love detective stories - I watch a lot of them on PBS - tonight was Rosemary & Thyme - also love their Inspector Lewis, Poirot etc. It must take quite an analytical mind to write a convincing mystery.

    sallans d at yahoo dot com

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    1. Hi Di

      I love writing mysteries with a good deal of action, adventure and suspense and then let loose the dashing Gentlemen of Scotland Yard!

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  17. Jillian -

    I loved your background on not only the smog but also the canals!

    I grew up in up-state New York and on our first visit back to my home-town after we were married as we were driving down Erie Boulevard my husband asked me where the Erie Canal was! I had to tell him he was driving on it! I asked him if he hadn't noticed how wide the street was. The look of diappointment on his face was priceless. To make up for it I had to take him out to the locks that were still open outside of town but because of changes over the years we had to walk almost a mile to get to them.

    I'm sure that in England and Scotland many of the canals have also been re-routed or eliminated as well so once again we are losing parts of our past history.

    I love your books and am thrilled that Detective Lewis is carrying on the trandition of suspense and intrigue in A Dangerous Liaison with Detective Lewis and can't wait to find out more about the next book in the series!

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  18. Hi Jeanne M,

    Some of the canals and a river or two still travel through London both above and below ground!

    As always I am so happy you are enjoying The Gentlemen of Scotland Yard!

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    1. Jillian -

      Have you ever been doing research for any of your books and been disappointed that something you had a question about and wanted to research is no longer there?

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  19. Congratulations to Jeanne M! You've won a signed copy of A DANGEROUS LIAISON WITH DETECTIVE LEWIS!

    Thanks again to Lady Scribes and Catherine Gayle for having me!

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  20. Hi Gjillian!

    I think you already know how much I love your books and how thrilled I am to have won a copy of A Dangerous Liason With Detective Lewis!

    Warning to all readers out there - Gjillian's books are delicous and no one can read just one!

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