I’m busy working on a historical novella for an anthology that will be out this June. I have no idea what my story will be titled yet, but the anthology title is Dancing in The Duke’s Arms. It’s a spin off, if you will, from the Christmas anthology Christmas in The Duke’s Arms. The same authors are participating: Grace Burrowes, Miranda Neville, Shana Galen, and me.
We chose Nottinghamshire as the location for our first anthology, and as we were discussing the follow up, we decided we would set the stories in the in real life location of The Dukeries, so called because there are four ducal estates located here, and they are more or less contiguous.
Wikipedia has a sufficient explanation. But The Dukeries – Sherwood Forest has a more picturesque one. Not one, not two, but FOUR ducal estates. And so, our anthology will have a surfeit of dukes and ducal estates.
Every book has its own ethos that requires research. For me, with my uniquely Carolyn style of writing, it works like this: Huh. Everyone is sitting around having tea and this is kind of boring. I wonder what local specialty they’re eating? The answer to that turned out to be Colwick Cheese. This cheese was long a specialty of Nottinghamshire. There were websites that implied this was a newer cheese not from our period, but Google and Advanced Google Book Search demonstrated that this was incorrect. British regulations around the turn of the 20th century did result in the disappearance of this cheese. But recently, it’s had a revival. Originally, the cheese was made by pouring spoiled milk into cheesecloth and letting it hang outside until all the water dripped out. The cheese formed a kind of bowl. It was often served with cream, fruit, or preserves in the bowl, and, though I can’t confirm the period part of this, sometimes the additions were savory.
And so, I had my interesting addition to tea. You’ll notice, on that website, a link called Red Poll. This is a kind of cow. It is, not surprisingly, red. This breed of cow is a good milk producer and I found a great deal of information praising this local cow. Why, since it turns out my heroine loves estate management, she could have Red Polls! However, it did not take long to discover that this breed was established well after the Regency, and so it was not possible for my story. But, it turns out she could have another red cow, the Red Leicester. Well, OK! I have learned some very interesting things about cows that I did not know before.
From there, I needed to describe the heroine’s house. I knew (don’t ask why, I just knew, OK?) that she lived in a house with lots of trees shading it and that there was a vine on the house. All right then. What kind of vines do they have in Nottinghamshire? Because, what if it’s not just ivy? More searches and before long I had found the Nottingham Flycatcher. This was perfect because it was known for growing on the walls of Nottingham Castle. Nottingham Flycatcher has a fragrant scent and attracts lots of moths and insects to the nectar. Perfect! This, too, could grow on my heroine’s house, and when the windows were open in the summer, rooms would surely smell lovely. I know this is true because right now this minute there is jasmine blooming on our deck and when the windows are open and a breeze comes along, the kitchen smells faintly of jasmine. I was saddened to learn that Nottingham Flycatcher is now extinct in Nottinghamshire. In the 1930’s the Flycatcher was removed from Nottingham Castle during renovations. It doesn’t appear to be entirely extinct, but I also learned that fully 98% of Britain’s wildflower habitat is gone. That is tragic.
As I’ve continued to write, the story no longer opens at the heroine’s house, and now I have to decide whether to move the Nottingham Flycatcher to my duke’s estate. Then it turned out that my heroine, while visiting the duke’s estate, is going to walk along the driveway and count trees. (Really, don’t ask. Maybe that won’t even stick. It’s too early to tell.) So, what kind of trees? I knew that lime trees are a common tree. Many period descriptions of estate reference driveways lined with lime trees. So. What do these lime trees look like? Somehow, I didn’t think they were the kind of lime trees that grow limes, and indeed, they are not. British Lime trees are very tall and beautiful and give loads of shade. There are lots of images of magical lime tree avenues. Like this one at Clumber Park. This is especially awesome because Clumber Park is one of the four estates of the Dukeries. It doesn’t even matter that those lime trees weren’t planted until 1840. My duke planted his way earlier. It’s called fiction for a reason.
And so, here I am madly writing a novella and having the best time ever researching cheese, and cows, and lime trees, and flycatchers. There will be more moments like this as I write because that’s just how I roll.
LOL, Carolyn! That’s such a great snapshot of the writing process, including all of your “don’t ask”s –some things just ARE. 🙂 I love research. It’s easy to get lost in it, but it’s also such a great addition to any story, used judiciously. I love this post! Cheese and vines and cows…. and readers wonder why it takes writers so long to turn out a story!
LOL What a great way to bring us along on your journey to researching for your novella. It’s also great insight to how an author gets their ideas.
And it’s definitely sad that 98 percent of Britain’s wildflower habitats are gone. Like what happened!? =(
I’m not going to see their landscape the same anymore.
Baring it all for everyone’s amusement!
I love when research goes like this. Other times there’s something I need to know, can’t find anywhere in the local university library or the Internet, but am sure that if I make something up, someone somewhere will catch me!
Oh, no kidding, Elena!
Ack, I meant to add that I have met historical readers who have an astonishing period knowledge. It’s humbling!
There don’t seem to be lime trees in the U.S.