#WittyNibWritingClub – Research

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Photograph taken at the Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga, South Africa. The setting is similar to that of Mafeking in 1900.

This is a prompt hosted by H.R.R. Gorman of Author Blog of H.R.R. Gorman.

I seem to tend towards writing historical fiction, I think it is a result of my fascination with real ghost stories. Where there are ghosts there are usually unnatural and interesting deaths which are good fodder for my supernatural and horror stories. I suppose that makes me sound a bit dark, but I am not, I just find ghost stories very satisfying and if they are based on real facts, that makes them even more alluring to me.

The thing about writing real stories is that you need to get the facts as correct as possible which is not always easy even if you do masses of research on a topic. Sometimes, there isn’t that much information available about a certain person and their death, some historical periods are not that well documented due to limited sources of historical information, some historical figures are the subject of a lot of speculation and, dare I say it, fake news and different sites provide different and conflicting facts.

A Ghost and His Gold is largely based around the Second Anglo Boer War or Second South African War and I discovered that there is a lot of information available from UK sources about the English perspective on the war and less from South African sources about the local and mainly Afrikaans perspective on the war. I found it very difficult to find reliable information about the native African perspective on this war, although I did find some sources which I brought in as best I could. I wasn’t able to expand the native African participation in this war as much as I would have liked, but it does feature.

I looked at a lot of different sources to accumulate all the information I wanted and needed to write this book which is told from four different viewpoints, as follows:

  1. Michelle, a modern woman living in Irene near Pretoria in South Africa;
  2. Pieter, a Burgher (citizen of the South African Republic in 1900 and obligated to fight for his country as and when needed);
  3. Robert, a British soldier who was station in Rhodesia and returns from compassionate leave to re-join his garrison in Mafeking where he lives through the siege; and
  4.  Estelle, the daughter of Pieter and his deceased English-speaking wife who is only twelve when the story starts.

Each of these characters interacts with the native African people and shares their experiences and perspectives.

Anyhow, here are a few of the documents I used for my research and which will feature in my bibliography for this book:

  • Australians in the war by Effie Karageorgos;
  • A visual and textual re-storying of the diary of Susanna Catharine Smit (1799 – 1863) by Marlene de Beer;
  • The Three British Occupations of Potchefstroom During the Anglo-Boer WAr 1899 – 1902 by Prof Gert van den Bergh;
  • A woman’s world at a time of war: An analysis of selected women’s diaries during the Anglo-Boer War 1899 – 1902 by Helen M. Ross;
  • The British Scorched Earth and Concentration Camp Policies in the Potchefstroom Region, 1899 – 1902 by Prof GN van den Bergh;
  • The South African War: Implications and Convictions of Postwar Politics and Policy by Jaffar Shiek;
  • Map – Military Survey of Pretoria and the country north and east;
  • A tool for modernisAtion? the Boer concentrAtion cAmps of the south AfricAn WAr, 1900–1902 by Elizabeth van Heyningen;
  • Battle of Stormberg – Wikipedia;
  • Battle of Elands River – Wikipedia;
  • Blockhouses of the Boer War by Maurig Jones;
  • The Treatment of ‘Everyday Life’ in Memory and Narrative of the Concentration Camps of the South African War, 1899 – 1902 by Helen Dampier;
  • Manliness and the English soldier in the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902 : the more things change, the more they stay the same by Sheila J. Bannerman;
  • History of Mental Health Services South Africa PART 11. DURING THE BRITISH OCCUPATION by M. MINDE;
  • The Project Gutenberg ebook,  Mafeking: A diary of a siege by F.D. Baillie;
  • The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Relief of Mafeking, by Filson Young;
  • The Project Gutenberg eBook, South African Memories Social, Warlike & Sporting From Diaries Written At The Time by Lady Sarah Wilson; and
  • Project Gutenberg’s A Handbook of the Boer War, by Gale and Polden, Limited.

A Ghost and His Gold is a work of fiction and none of the characters really exist so my research was to ensure I incorporated the historical facts correctly within my fictionalised story. A lot of research also went in to ensuring the setting was correct and realistic.

What are your thoughts on research for a book? Do you double check facts and consult numerous sources?

If you would like to join in with the prompt, you can link up here: https://hrrgorman.wordpress.com/2020/04/16/5-types-of-research-for-your-novel/

38 thoughts on “#WittyNibWritingClub – Research

    1. HI Priscilla, it is necessary to double check as there are conflicting sources out there. I steered clear of real historical figures in this book as it is just to difficult to get all the relevant detail. I find researching British historical figures much easier with regards to the availability of information. I haven’t tried to research any US figures.

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  1. I can’t really answer this, but I am certain you can. Writing a historical novel is harder than many other genres.
    You need to do so much research to get the details write. Then,once you have gathered all the information, to make the story and characters interesting while still being true to the history, I just imagine that can’t be easy.

    I admire you and all other writers of historical fiction. Perhaps, one day I will try it.

    Your stories and characters sounded interesting. Best of luck.

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    1. Thank you, Drew. All my adult writing includes an element of historical information so I always have to do research. My Sir Chocolate books are pure fantasy for children so they don’t require any research just lots of imagination. I am half way through a sci-fi novel which I will now have to revamp due to Covid-19. My starting point is now wrong. That also required a lot of research as I am incorporating genetic engineering. I think all genres require a lot of research unless it is pure fantasy. That also requires lots of hard work from what I have read about Tolkien and other masters. Tolkien had ten books of notes about his worlds.

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  2. This is absolutely fascinating, Robbie. Who knew you had to research so much for a ghost story,? But the way you explain it, it makes so much sense. I’m really impressed. I research my books, which are in contemporary times, by knowing the setting as well as the back of my hand. I also have to research the career of each of my characters, like I had to find out about investment banking which my character Sandra was involved in, in my book Twin Desires. My main character in The Right Wrong Man, Meredith, was a medical editor just like I had been so I knew what I was talking about there. 😁

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    1. HI Pam, it is easier to write what you know. Strangely, I have lived in South Africa most of my life and studied history at school but I found research this history much more challenging than for my UK based stories. A lot of the resources I used are not local like Gutenberg. The Right Wrong Man sounds interesting. I will pick it up and add it to my TBR.

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    1. Yes, and it is very time consuming, Bette. With poetry and books, it also depends what you are writing about but if, for example, you write about a boy that ends up in a reformatory or detention centre, then you have to understand how those work and read up on them. There are no short cuts in writing. Have a great weekend, Bette.

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  3. The research that you put into Through the Nethergate was substantial. It looks like you’ve found your niche, Robbie.

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    1. Hi Pete, thank you. Research British history is a pleasure as there are so many research sites and tools available and it is so organised. A lot like their historical sites and tours. I can’t speak for US historical research tools as I have only written one short story set in the Everglades. I had to research the terrain for that one. I love research so I think this is my niche. Have you picked up your pen again, Pete. I am going to work on my Silly Willy book 2 now that A Ghost and His Gold is finished.

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  4. I enjoyed reading your post, Robbie. I appreciate the work you put into the research. I mentioned it to you before.

    Even when I write a short blog post, I want to make sure the information included is accurate, so I constantly do research as I write. 🤗

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  5. Yes if I’m writing a piece that needs historical research I always try to find several sources. It’s something that was expected when I wrote essays at University and so I guess I kept doing that. Multiple sources can show the same event in different perspectives, or even add extra details.

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  6. Yessss – this is some deep research! I think you’ve gotten quite a bit and probably will have one of the richest novels possible about the subject. Keeping an eye out for posts on Ghosts’ progress!

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  7. I love doing research for a book. For Elizabeth’s War I spent a lot of time at the library researching on micto film, it was before computers. I loved finding little known facts to explore. Your research shines through in your writing and I appreciate that.

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  8. I’ve started doing research for a novel. I was going to include a historical figure, but trying to account for the geography of his life would have meant a contrived plot. I’m glad I did the initial research so that I didn’t end up going in the wrong direction. I’ve been able to get a lot of historical detail from newspaper articles, which revealed misconceptions on my part, so that’s been good. The sources that are going to put the remaining pieces in place are only in hard copy at the historical society in the town where the novel will be set. My husband and I were going to drive up there, but it’s had to wait. What’s hardest for me is having the discipline to make a research plan, stick to it, and document what I’ve done.

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    1. I started A Ghost and His Gold with a real person too, Liz. It was the real ghost that Ouma Smuts (Jan Smut’s wife) saw in their house with is a national monument. It became to difficult to achieve my story objectives using this real person so I invented Pieter van Zyl. That has worked better for me. Even inventing a family was hard work as I had to check the map of farms in Irene pre the Anglo Boer War to ensure it all worked and made historical sense.

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      1. I know exactly what you mean about needing to check maps. What I’m needing to find (which I don’t know exists) is a floor plan/blueprint for the building where the poor farm residents stayed. I have an overall layout of the building, but not the individual rooms. Then the question niggles at the back of my mind, if I get some of the details of the building wrong, is there anyone left alive who will know?

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      2. I had such dire warnings from writing professors about killing the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief with inaccurate details, I try to be hypervigilant.

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  9. I think it is really important to do the research to make the book as realistic and believable, especially if it is historic fiction or based on a true event. When reading that type of story, I will check things that I read and if they are wrong, it will somewhat turn me off the story, unless the author has stated that they have changed things etc.

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    1. I don’t think I would like it if an author deliberately changed things, Carla. I think if a book is historical it must be truthful unless it is one of those storylines where the hero is actually changing the history timeline.

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