RHYS BOWEN: I write two mystery series that are both set in the past. This should make the research challenging as I can't go back in time to check things out.... or can I?
My Royal Spyness books take place in a world with which I'm quite familiar. I'm not saying that life for the upper class in England hasn't changed since the Thirties. One only had to see Prince William putting his child's car seat into the Land Rover and then driving himself away from the hospital to realize that modern royals want to do things for themselves. But when I was growing up the older generation spoke and acted like the characters in my books. I sat in drawing rooms that were cold and drafty with one fireplace miles from the nearest arm chair. Then I married into a family with funny nick names and stories about past grandeur (they used to own Sutton Place, plus several other grand houses). There is a family legend that my father-in-law said to a cousin who wanted to marry someone who owned a shop "No trade in the family. I forbid it." He drove an aged Daimler and his generation came from a time when they still had servants to do everything.
When I was at college I met girls who had never got themselves a glass of water before leaving home. I also had a friend whose brother dated Princess Anne. So lots of good insights to the upper class way of thinking. As far as the physical research--Lady Georgie's London home is in Belgravia which really hasn't changed much. I love to walk around the St. James part of London and poke into shops that have been there since Victorian times--gentlemen's outfitters, chemists with strange concoctions in the window, musty bookshops and of course Fortnum and Mason. So it's easy to go back in time if I can blot out the roar of the current London traffic.
So now when I want to know what someone in my books would wear for a particular occasion I rush to Dinah, who produces the outfit and lets me try it on. At a fashion show last spring I modeled an authentic velvet cape and shoes for my "come as your character" presentation. The shoes were super comfortable too.
For my other series, the Molly Murphy books, I'm equally lucky. Parts of New York haven't changed much since the early 1900s. I chose a house for my heroine on Patchin Place in New York and got an email from the man who lives there now, complete with lots of photographs he'd taken of the interior and back garden. I go to New York and walk the streets Molly walked. I sit in Pete's tavern and realize that Molly wouldn't have been allowed inside. And sometimes I get a complete gift of insight: like the time I attended the feast of San Genaro in Little Italy. Mulberry Street was lined with booths with hissing kerosene lamps, strings of colored lights, smells of garlic and great coils of sausage cooking. And the crowd was channeled between the booths--the noise level was incredible, bouncing back from those high tenements. This is how it was, I thought (only a little cleaner under foot now). And then halfway down the street I came to a tent with the words "Freak Show. See the snake woman. 50 cents.) I really thought I had been transported back in time. What a gift.
And of course I set my books in places like Nice and Paris, so I've had to endure brutal research trips to those places--slaving away checking out all the bistros and wine bars and fashion stores. What we writers do for our art!
Attention: Coming tomorrow! Susan Elia McNeal of Mr. Churchill's Secretary fame. Susan will be giving away a copy of her new book to the best comment of the day!
And Rhys will be giving away a copy of Heirs and Graces at the end of the week to her favorite comment of the week. So visit often and join in the chat.