I’ve learned a lot about the first world war in the 20 years since. Though I decided not to make its horrors the focus of my series, I soon realized that two subjects that attracted me to the period were inextricably linked to the war. First, the country could not afford the extravagances of fashion, so women’s clothes became much simpler and more comfortable; and second, the huge loss of life in the trenches helped open an unprecedented range of careers to women.
The more I learned, the more careful I had to be to pick and choose what information I used in my mysteries, especially as they’re basically lighthearted. We’ve all read (or started to read) novels where the author has attempted to cram in every scrap of extensive research. Nothing kills a story quicker.
The art is to find the details that will bring your fictional world to life. The rest of the research isn’t wasted, though. The better you know and understand that world, the easier it becomes to convey it to the reader in a way that is integral to the story.
Almost all the Daisy Dalrymple books have some direct reference to the war. Its effects loomed over the following decade. Daisy’s brother and fiancé were both killed in France—that’s part of who she is.
In The Bloody Tower, a Yeoman Warder suffers severely in a London fog after his lungs were badly damaged by mustard gas. In Superfluous Women (June 2015), three young women make a life for themselves together because the deaths of so many men left a large disproportion of females to males.
All these are reminders of the recent war, but are also germane to the plots and flesh out characters.
Thus the research blends organically into the narrative. It’s all about people and their stories, not information.
|Carola Dunn is author of the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries, Cornish Mysteries, and multitudinous Regencies.|