Feedback how do you Research

Sources – A Reader asks “How do you research your subject matter, and where?”

Antoine Replies:

Probably one of the best investments I’ve made in my life is my annual membership of The London Library. It was founded in 1841 by the historian Thomas Carlyle. The roll-call of members and officers since then has included just about every eminent British author – even today it’s quite remarkable who you can see in the Reading Room or share an elevator with. It‘s the largest private library in the world and has over a million books. Just about everything of value published since 1841 is there, mainly in English but to a lesser extent in other languages. It offers free access to the shelves, so that browsing is a delight, and it uses an arcane non-numerical fling system so that you have to search under multiple headings if you’re doing a comprehensive search. This makes it somewhat akin to the library in “The Name of the Rose” and the layout – in what originally a vast Georgian townhouse that has been extended multiple times – is so labyrinthine that one can easily lose orientation. If one were starting from scratch nothing remotely like it would be built today – and that’s a delight. Since I write about the Victorian period I enjoy working in what’s recognisably a Victorian institution.

One of the great advantages for me is that it gives me access not only to a wide range of formal histories, but to primary sources. For background to the Dawlish Chronicles – which demands knowledge of the political, economic and social life of the Victorian period, as well as the military, naval and technological ones, I like to look at contemporary publications. Of especial interest are personal memoirs, such as those of Hobart Pasha, or Lord Charles Beresford or Sir Percy Scott. (And I’ve got a treasured copy of my own of Lord Fisher’s chaotic and almost maniacal, though enthralling, “Memories” – which he deliberately didn’t call “Memoirs”).

As well as this I’ve got a reasonably large library of my own and this includes a large number of reference books – Jane’s Fighting Ships, Conway’s wonderful compilations etc. But to a certain extent such reference books are being made obsolete by the Internet and I make full use of it. So for this reason I guess that research for a historical novelist is easier than at any other time in history. It’s the actual writing and editing that represents the real slog – and will remain so!

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