Sunday, July 10, 2016

Rhys on Research

RHYS BOWEN: Last week Karen gave you her report on our workshop in Tuscany. At the end of the ten days we went our separate ways and I headed north to Lake Maggiore to do research for my next Royal Spyness book.  I thought you might be interested to see what such research entails. When I’ve told people that I was heading to Nice or to Italy to do research, I see them grinning and thinking, “Right. Research. I don’t think.”
                Actually I do work quite hard, albeit in lovely surroundings. When I was writing Naughty in Nice I spent several days in the main library looking through old postcards and maps. After all streets and their names are always being changed in France. Princess Grace Boulevard would not have existed at the time I write about. I spent a fabulous morning at the hotel Negresco, wandering hallways and peering around corners, with the blessing of the management who suddenly decided I should be given free rein when I produced a card that said I was a bestselling author. I took lots of pictures and wandered streets (and ate and drank local food and wine, of course. All part of the research of bringing a place to life!)
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                This time in Stresa I was most interested in finding a villa and gardens that matched the setting I wanted for Lady Georgie’s stay. I was fascinated by some of the villas that must once have been grand and have now been allowed to fall into ruins. (Tempted to buy one and restore it!) But I did see one lovely villa that would fit the bill and then there were gardens at Villa Tarranto and on the Isola Bella, both of which are incorporated into my Villa Gloriosa.
Also I was interested in the details of the conference that took place in Stresa in 1935 between Italy, France and England, deciding what to do about the Nazi threat. Where was it held? Who was there? I always like to bring real history into my stories and this conference was a gift—right time, right place. Then there was the train and steamer up to the Swiss part of the lake, as that also has to be part of my story. Where might there have been a famous clinic in 1935? And of course the Grand Hotel where Ernest Hemmingway stayed when he wrote “A Farewell to Arms”. Surely there was a way to bring that into the story!


                Above all I try to get the feel of a place: when I sit in the little square and drink coffee what do I see, hear, smell? It is deliciously cool in the shade of the sycamore trees. Sound echoes from the surrounding alleyways. Italians in conversation always sound as if they are about to break into a fight. And then there is the weather: morning clouds draped over the mountains. Wisps of cloud attached to the peaks like strands of sheep’s wool caught on a fence. The far side of the lake swallowed into blackness during a storm. Weather is always important in a story so I take pictures and make notes of every weather change.

                When I write a book my aim is to take my readers there, not tell them about it. If I’ve experienced it then hopefully they will took.  Watch out for the book next year. It’s called “On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service.”

19 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

Your research process sounds quite thorough, Rhys . . . when I read your books I feel as if I am right there in the midst of everything and the place always feels so real. It’s a special dimension in your stories.

Edith Maxwell said...

Wonderful! I already feel like I'm there.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Fantastic Rhys! Like Edith, I'm already getting the sense of place. Actually being there makes such a difference, doesn't it? Looking forward to this book!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Rhys, you are completely unstoppable. And it is interesting, too, how your books seem so effortless but underneath all that lovely writing and story is rigorous research and hard work. Fascinating too, how the tiny details make a big difference.
Cannot wait to read this!
Xx

Mary Sutton said...

What gorgeous pictures. I love that hotel and the villas. If I could go anywhere in Europe, Italy tops the list.

Can't wait to read.

Hallie Ephron said...

Clearly I need to stop setting books in my home town... or in my memory of where I grew up. Rhys, are there any plot twists that are growing out of your 'going there?'

FChurch said...

The 'big picture' of any setting could be lifted from a guidebook--it's the details that put the reader in the scene--in the place where the story is occurring. When an author gets it right, you don't have to think about it, you are 'there' with the characters. So keep up that fabulous research, Rhys! Lucky you to get to spend time in such marvelous places--and lucky readers, too!

Rhys said...

Plot twists, Hallie? I hadn't really started the book when I went there. There were adjustments to what I thought I'd write: the station was much further out of town than I wanted. My heroine couldn't pop into town to get a coffee and then back to the station carrying her luggage. Rats. And I had to rethink where I wanted to set my villa. To the north the railway would be where I wanted the villa grounds. To the south the land rose more steeply than I would like. So rethinking. But the steep lie of the land made me think the grounds would present a problem if one was trying to run through them!

And you can set your next book in Iceland! I'd love that.

Susan D said...

Hmm, Georgie meets Hemingway? That would be great. (Too bad it was pubbed in 1929.) I envy you, Rhys, your capacity for persuading people from history to appear in your books, and I'm sure you could make it happen.

Karen in Ohio said...

You should definitely buy a villa, and then have many more retreats there.

Aren't I helpful? ☺

Kathy Reel said...

Names of streets, slang, manner of dress, hairstyles, modes of transportation, food, furniture, houses, businesses, appropriate historical events, inventions already invented... I am always in awe of all that you and others writing historical fiction have to research and get right. Your dedication to getting it right is much appreciated, Rhys, and you are masterful at making me feel ensconced in the setting.

I admit that I would actually enjoy sorting through old postcards especially and also maps. (Hmm, maybe you could use an assistant. Hehehe!) I like that you soak up the ambiance of a place by sitting in its atmosphere and letting it all wash over you. And taking notes on the weather. You are indeed thorough.

Thanks for sharing this peek into your research, Rhys. As a Georgie and Molly fan, I get to benefit from your hard work, so thank you for the hard work, too.

Deborah Crombie said...

Rhys, the book sounds wonderful. Can't wait to read it!

And I must say I envy you your research...

Libby Dodd said...


"When I write a book my aim is to take my readers there, not tell them about it."
That, in my opinion, is the sign off excellent writing.

Pat D said...

Research on. Good for you Rhys. It is the little details that can make or break the story. Crediblity can be blown apart if the writer obviously has never been to the site of his/her story and has been lazy in researching. Sounds and scents add so much to the authenticity. Another reason I like all you hardworking Jungle Reds so much!

Anonymous said...

Rhys,

Love the new title for the Lady Georgie novel. On Her Majesty's frightfully secret service or did you mean on HIS Majesty..?

The wonderful details from research makes a difference in novels.

Always enjoy reading your Lady Georgie novels.

Cannot wait to read it!

Diana

Jungle Red Writers said...

Her Majesty. She's on assignment from the queen, not the king

storytellermary said...

Work, even in lovely surroundings, is still work, and I appreciate your disciplined efforts to make your books feel so real and so tempting and beautiful. It's a gift! Thanks to your hard work, I can travel without even packing a suitcase. ;-)

Teresa in Florida said...

I with Karen. We would be there I'm sure. Love all the villas.

Rhys said...

Wouldn't that be great, Teresa?