Last fall, when I found out Learning to Waltz had been chosen best Regency romance for 2014 by Chanticleer Book Reviews, Victoria and Kristine invited me to Number One London to share my excitement. (See that post here.)

I’m back again, because at long last I have received my prize: A free Chanticleer review. Five stars! I’d say it was worth the wait. (Read the review here.)

“Reid’s focus,” says the reviewer, “is on her richly developed characters, not just costumes and carriages.” She is right that character comes first. A novel without memorable characters isn’t worth reading. And beyond memorable, there has to be at least one I really like and can root for, however flawed he or she might be. (In Learning to Waltz, of course, there is more than one. In fact, I have a soft spot for each and every one of them. Yes, even Doctor Overley and Deborah’s feckless brother!)
But setting runs a pretty close second, and that makes “costumes and carriages” important too. Setting encompasses a lot of different elements, from geography and climate to the scene outside – and inside – the window. But in historical fiction, so much of setting is wrapped up in when the story takes place. Costumes and carriages, of course, but also language, food, holidays, religion, political events… aargh, the list goes on forever. Yet these details of daily life add so much! They make it feel authentic, realistic. They help draw a reader into the story and persuade her it really could have happened.
Which brings me (finally!) to today’s topic: research. Most of the historical writers I know love research as much as they love writing. Many of us could get lost in it and never come out again. After all, if we didn’t like history, we would probably choose a different genre.
Research is critical to a good historical novel – thankfully there’s a lot of information out there! Too much, I sometimes think. Books from the period ran the gamut from Gothic novels to sermons, travelogues to gardening. Newspapers covered politics, entertainment and more. (Even the ads are fascinating.) A wide variety of periodicals provide abundant information  about literature, science, fashion. And there are the personal documents: letters, ledgers, household lists and “receipts” (recipes), and so much more.

Plenty of important history took place during the Regency, from the Napoleonic wars on down; there were bound to be historical researchers digging in and writing about their findings. But it makes a difference, I think, that Regency Romance has been popular for so long. Since Georgette Heyer published Regency Buck in 1935, this brief ten-year span (1811-1820) has received more than its share of attention from novelists. While the historians pry out political secrets, others delight in discovering the daily facts of life and write their own books, not only novels but also non-fiction to help other writers and enthusiasts.

My humble Regency research library consists of some 70 volumes. Sounds like a lot, yet there are probably thousands more. Unfortunately I don’t have the money to buy them, the space to keep them, or the time to read them. In fact, I don’t often sit down and read the books I have; when I have a question I need answered, I pull out the most likely ones and utter some swear words about inadequate indexing. Then I go to the internet, where there are hundreds of blogs and newsletters on the subject, most of them easy to navigate. Maybe that’s because they’re mostly published by my fellow Regency writers, who know how important it is to be able to find what you’re looking for!
My second book will have the benefit of another type of research! I expect to have a complete first draft by the time I visit Yorkshire in October, but there will still be time for changes. I want to see those northern moors in person, and the 1808 library in Leeds where I’ve set a crucial scene. I want to see historical buildings large and small, rich and poor, and find out what they’re made of. Leeds has some fantastic online resources, but I want more! I only wish I could see it as it was in 1822! A couple of hours would do, just until I needed a proper toilet.
I’m sorry I couldn’t give Learning to Waltz that kind of attention. Measham, where most of the action takes place, is fictional, but Lydford, where Deborah grew up, is very real. Dawlish too, where Evan explores the natural arch in what was then Langstone Headland and rides breakneck down the beach in a storm. Finding that arch online inspired the scene, which is a turning point in the story. I’m sure the local residents in both places – particularly the town historians – would have no trouble finding inaccuracies.

Dawlish Beach, 1881

(You can see the arch at the far left in this 1881 photo. At low tide it was, and still is, approachable on foot – or horseback. What you can’t see is the railroad, built directly along the beachf
ront in the 1840s. In laying the railbed, they also cut through the headland. The arch, and the rock that contains it, still exist, however. And I sure would have liked to see them before I wrote about them!)
I could, and probably should, have spent ten years doing research before ever setting pen to paper. And traveling all around the British Isles taking notes on absolutely everything! But I’m betting there would still be questions. I would still be searching books and the internet to find the answers. And alas, I would still be making mistakes. I just have to hope the reviewers don’t catch them!

Join my newsletter family! You can find a recent issue here. Each month I share some of my research on social history, and much more besides.


  1. Kerryn, Just read this post and your initial one on Victoria Hinshaw's site. Both are fascinating. So pleased your debut novel won the Chanticleer award–very well deserved. Have a great time researching in England this fall. Knowing you, I know you'll come away with a wealth of material. Looking forward to reading #2!

  2. Congratulations on the great review! And, like you, I LOVE researching the Regency! How wonderful it will be to visit some of the places in which you set your stories. Can't wait to read BOTH of your books!

  3. Your research shines through as a character in your novel, Karen. Lovely job! Well-deserved reward and review. Know what you mean about getting lost in the research, though. Enjoy every moment of your trip, every tidbit you glean–just remember to come back to us 🙂

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