Cindy Anstey has published six young adult romantic mysteries; they are all historical with a touch of humor, taking place in the 19th century. Her most recent book, Deadly Curious, is a more serious read and was released in June. Her five other titles are The Hummingbird Dagger, Love, Lies and Spies, Duels & Deception, Suitors and Sabotage and Carols and Chaos.
How do you conduct your research?
I research the old-fashioned way: books. I love learning social history. A new novel begins when I look into historical events around the timeframe I have chosen, and I extrapolate from there. For settings, I research suitable houses, (manors) often finding photos on the Internet. These help me understand the layouts—placement of the common rooms, servant’s quarters and bedrooms and I find color plates of lady’s fashions so that I can imagine the character’s gowns. I lived in Belgium for eight years and visited manors, palaces, castles and various estates across Europe—particularly England country houses, paying close attention to the rugs and furniture.
What kinds of sources do you use?
I can be very specific and give you an abbreviated list of my sources: Life in the English Country House by Mark Girouard; London, A Social History by Roy Porter; Up and Down Stairs, The History of the Country House Servant by Jeremy Musson; Our Tempestuous Day, A History of Regency England by Carolly Erickson; A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England by Sue Wilkes; 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Captain Grose. I have many, many, more but those are the books close to hand. I am very fortunate that the time period I’m interested in (19th century) has been the focus of many a researcher and I have a bevy of books to choose from.
How long do you typically research before beginning to draft?
I love to research so much, it’s actually hard to stop. One subject will lead to another; it’s a never-ending list of what ifs and how did they do that? Of course, with each book, I learn far more about the history of my time period than ever makes it into the story. I call a halt to pure research at around 4 to 6 weeks, though it continues throughout the writing process—there are always things to verify.
What’s your favorite things about writing historical fiction?
There are so many things to like about historical writing that I am hard pressed to claim only one. However, if forced to do so, I would choose research. I love learning about the norms of a household two hundred years ago. I enjoy envisioning their daily lives and imagining their relationships in a world without computers and cell phones.
What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?
While not a stumbling block per se, the attitude and thought processes of those who lived two hundred years ago can present limitations. The restrictions placed on women, particularly young women, were draconian. I often explain that my characters are acting oddly—not in keeping with the norm—in order to make the narrative more accessible to the reader. As an example, at the beginning of each book I find a way for my characters to call one another by their first names. In the 19th century, given names were rarely used; even married couples addressed one another formally when in company.
What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?
One of the interesting aspects of this time period is the length of time it takes to move around/to travel. Distances of 60 miles or so (an hour in the 21st century car) could take up to five hours in a carriage with stops along the way to change horses. City visitors often stayed a week or more at a friend or relative’s estate due to the lengthy travel time. Picnics or outdoor excursions had to be planned well in advance with arrangements made for the horses, seating and food that would not spoil. Servants were required to accompany the family to make life easier.
What sorts of decisions have you had to make about “muddy” historical figures or events in order for your book to work?
The time period of my fifth book, The Hummingbird Dagger, was chosen to take advantage of the turmoil and historical events of the end of slavery in England. However, it became clear that referring to this issue could present a host problems, and I decided to change the pivotal purpose of the villains to that of squelching the abolition of privateers.