Friday, August 17, 2018

Why I love Writing Historical Fiction

I spoke to my sister-in-law the other day and she couldn't understand how I could write novels that required so much research. I said "I love the research." Digging out those little gems of history and daily life, how people dressed, what they ate. Did women really not wear underpants in the eighteenth century (my preferred time period)? They didn't! Apparently this made it easier for the women to use the necessary (toilet) with all those stiff layers of clothing.
A fact that shocked me: the English washed their clothing in urine. They used urine for its acidic properties. I learned that on a visit to Shakespeare's parents' farm in Stratford-upon-Avon.

When I wrote my first novel, now titled Escape the Revolution, I wrote the story before my research and had to change so much, but found I enjoyed ferreting out the details. In my tavern I had a bar. I discovered there weren't yet drinking bars in 1790, so I had to change it. Pot-boys scooped out ale or beer from barrels in the kitchen and poured the drink into tankards to be served directly to the table. I triple checked these facts.
I still find many famous authors who put bars in their stories long before they appeared in history (the Victorian age).
I love the challenge of getting my details right. Of putting my heroines in a situation where they can't whip out a Smartphone to call for help. They must use their wits. Nothing is simple without modern conveniences.

In the days before the Internet (Yes, young people, there were those days) I utilized the library system for my research. I lived near Washington DC and traveled there to the Library of Congress Reading Room, an excellent resource. I was fortunate to be able to use their comprehensive library.

How fast does a horse travel in one day? (about fifty miles). Marriage rules and restrictions, the calling of the banns. All these things you must take into consideration when writing historical fiction. There were odd customs/fashions for women, such as mouse-fur eyebrows, and when they lost their teeth, a cork ball was stuffed in the cheek to fill out the face. Early in the 18th c. men wore rouge on their lips and cheeks, huge wigs--as did women--and high heeled shoes.

In one novel, Rose's Precarious Quest, I had a character who was a doctor in 1796. I had to request rare books by a Dr. Hunter to gain knowledge from that era. I also came across a fantastic website put out by Colonial Williamsburg on eighteenth century medicine. Domestic Medicine. I learned about the humors of the body (black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood) and how they must be regulated to keep one well. The strange, often deadly remedies (as in mercury and white lead) used to heal the sick. However, the poisonous Foxglove plant was turned into Digitalis to successfully treat heart disease.

For my Canadian Historical Brides story, On a Stormy Primeval Shore, I had to research the province of New Brunswick. I must applaud my wonderful research assistant, Nancy Bell, who found me reproductions of historical documents on the internet.
 I learned so much about who settled this territory, who the native tribes were, the Acadians, Germans, Scots, English and the Loyalist Americans who fled the American Revolution. The struggles these people went through in a harsh climate.

It's a good thing I love all these details, the thrill of research. However, it makes me a picky reader when I catch the historical mistakes made by other authors.

To purchase this book and my previous novels  Amazon and All Markets

For more information on me and my books, please visit my website:
Diane Scott Lewis grew up in California, traveled the world with the navy, edited for magazines and an on-line publisher. She lives with her husband in Pennsylvania.


  1. Well said. I, too, enjoy researching. It shows we have not changed, but our technology has.

  2. Researching is fun. The interesting things that don't go into the book are often just as fascinating. Enjoyed reading how other writers handle the research aspect of their work(s). Thanks for posting this.

  3. I love doing the research as well, I discover such interesting things! :)

  4. I love doing the research as well, I discover such interesting things! :)