I’m a glutton for research. I have a very large bookcase full of material covering all aspects of life, mostly from the 18th Century with a smattering of books on other periods along with my crime library concerning investigations and murder.
The most used is Cunnington’s Handbook of English Costume in the Eighteenth Century, without which I couldn’t function, although I usually leave these descriptions to the editing stage. The great thing about Cunnington is the detail, from fabrics to accessories, with year on year changes for both men and women.
One book on antiques has a useful set of images depicting the way rooms actually looked, as well as individual items of furniture - for which I’ve also got Chippendale’s workbook. Ackermann helps with scenes of London, such as Brooks’s, Astley’s Amphitheatre, Covent Garden and the Pantheon. The Romance of the Road gives two whole journeys from London to Bath and London to Portsmouth in drawings, so you get distances, inns and the likely traffic. I can’t do without my books on Georgian cookery, and those with satirical drawings are wonderfully evocative of the period.
Setting is vital and I’m in love with my book of maps from the late 18th century covering the entire country. I’ve also got London and greater London A-Z style maps, and a whole raft of detailed Victorian books about London and surrounding districts with interesting snippets, like who lived where, what’s there and the history behind it, plus sketches.
I like images best (like the Ackermann print below) because they help me picture the scene, and I can garner textual stuff to furnish detail. It’s amazing how it puts me into the period in my head, which in turn enables me to write it for the reader to imagine.
This is what I love about books, and why research is vital. You can’t detail everything you’ve read. Instead you draw the scene in brush strokes of words, letting the reader fill in the gaps. I have to immerse myself in the data, even if only about 10% ends up in the book.
To be honest, I’m far too apt to lose myself in the books and forget what I’m actually looking for. One piece of research leads to another, besides throwing up new plot points I hadn’t thought of. Research for me is as much part of the process of writing as it is exploration of the period.