How to Research your Super-Accurate Historical Novel

So, you’ve decided to write a historical novel. You’ve chosen a time period, a location, a historic character – you’re ready to sit down and put pen to paper. But all of a sudden, you realise you know nothing about what it was really like to live during that time. And why would you? You weren’t around then, and it’s likely that nobody you know was, either! You had great ideas about cowboys, soldiers, kings and queens but perhaps very few accurate ideas about how it all really went down. And accuracy is key. So, where do you start?

Make decisions. You need to know the exact direction in which you are travelling. Otherwise, researching around a vague idea is going to be a nightmare. During planning, make sure to think about:

- Location. This needs to be precise – something manageable. Try to avoid writing about a whole city, when you could be writing about the suburb of that one city, and so on.  Readers become much more involved in a story when they feel they can grasp the entire area being discussed, and each character within it. By all means, allow your characters to wander elsewhere, but try not to use too wide a location as your ‘base’, for fear of your audience becoming overwhelmed. Or worse still, being bored of both the geographic and character descriptions.

- Time span. Same principle applies here – a story that covers a week, a few months, a year, or a few years, is much easier to manage and comprehend than a book covering a hundred years. You need to narrow down the exact time-frame you’re working by, so that you can apply your research accordingly, and avoid wasting time looking into events that are just before, or just after your time span.

- Action. You need to make sure that things happen within the story. Though there are successful historical novels that write about nothing at all, it seems, it is far easier to entertain an audience, and to describe a historical setting, if there are conflicts and events involved. War, poverty, hunger, romance, domestic problems, or workplace issues all help readers to understand the world you are writing about, and to immerse themselves in the problems that your characters might be facing as part of their every day lives.

Read historical fiction. If you want to write it, read it. Take time to read through your favourite historical novels – what makes them so good? Which aspects would you like to implement in your own writing? The same goes for the bad books – which parts would you like to avoid? What deters you from the book? Take not of the use of language, the imagery, the clarity, the precision and accuracy – these are all things to be aware of when writing your own historical novel, so why not learn from the greats?

Research, research, research. When dreaming up your fictional (yet historically-accurate!) world, make sure to note down as many questions as you can think of that need answering. Note: this is also a good time to start carrying a pen and pad around with you at all hours of the day and night. Read as many textbooks as you can. Delve deep into the library archives. Take note of bibliographies and make notes of any books you think could be relevent – add to the list! Get down to the museum and check out the household items, the costumes, the weapons. Speak to the pros who work there and ask for their insight. It’s also a good idea to apply everyday situations to a historical context. Anything that happens in your everyday life – think, how would this be different if it were 500 years ago? It’s all about putting yourself in your characters’ shoes.

If you’re interested in historical novels – or are looking to do some research of your own – check out our latest historical titles: 

Point the Finger of Blame

3D They Came Three Thousand

They Came Three Thousand Miles and   Died

The Great Glasgow Word Robbery – A Piece by Jason Thorkwell

It’s all over the city; 250k heist gang, clock ticking, loot ‘too hot’ to move…

I can’t help but feel that in this instance, the Argyll Arcade robbery is an insult to the word ‘Heist’ – or is it?

Heist, by definition: to steal, to hold up; rob.

So do the Argyll Arcade events qualify? On a technicality, I suppose, yes. But where’s the classic, genre defining three-act plot?

I. The complex plan that’s been devised; the prep; accessing blueprints, studying the layout, learning about the alarm system.

II. The careful execution of the heist itself; almost always successful.

III. The daring escape with the merchandise; the unravelling; the main protagonists turning on each other, the plot twist.

Writing two days after the event, it appears some of the criteria has been fulfilled – the daring escape with loot in tow (and in broad daylight too, very Heat) checks act three, and as a result automatically checks act two by default.

Now until all the details of the Argyll Arcade raid are reported, we’re never going to know the finer points regarding act one.

My all-time Top 5 favourite Heist films:

1. Die Hard

2. Cliffhanger

3. Heat

4. Reservoir Dogs

5. The Getaway*

For the majority there most of the main characters end up dead or captured, and more often than not left without any of the score.

However the core members of the groups in these films usually tend to feature highly skilled career criminals, often specialising in a specific area of expertise; the jewel thief, the computer hacker, the safe cracker etc. Our Glasgow raiders were armed with axes and sledgehammers. Which on paper sounds rather bungling – were it not for the successful execution of the plan and the evasion of capture.

So, when is a heist not a heist? I think for every case we have to examine the loot-to-risk ratio. Getting away with 250k worth of jewellery in broad daylight is certainly risky, and while the watches stolen were ridiculously expensive, that’s still not a heist, certainly not in my mind, or dare I say, neither is it a heist in the minds of Neil McCauley, Hans Gruber, or Eric Qualen who collectively wouldn’t get out of bed for £250,000.

I digress. I suppose all I really want to know is – which one of the robbers had been coerced into one last big job?


*This gets an honorary place as I’m a sucker for a husband and wife team – Bonnie and Clyde desperately unlucky not to be on that list.

For more of Jason’s work, visit

Catch him on Twitter @JasonThorkwell

6 Common Mistakes Authors Make: Dialogue

Every book is different. But while every manuscript I have edited so far has demanded different levels of attention, there have been similar errors and mistakes appear in each of them that I find myself correcting over and over again. It is true that each author has their own writing style and knowledge of their craft, but that doesn’t mean that the same mistakes can’t crop up from multiple authors.

I have compiled a list of the most common of these mistakes – in no particular order – plus the solutions to them. Here’s Part 1, which deals with problems in dialogue formatting.


  1. Incorrectly Formatted Speech

It’s a common one! Back when I first started writing regularly, around six years ago, this was something I always got wrong. But I didn’t even realise I was getting it wrong until I read an article, similar to this one, that pointed it out as a general mistake in creative writing.

The rules of dialogue aren’t actually that much different to the rules of regular prose. You wouldn’t end a line of narrative prose with a comma, would you?

Often I see this:


“Let’s go to the park.” he said.

“OK” she replied.


Each of those has a mistake. In the first line, the author has used a full-stop where there should be a comma. The speech has closed, with the full-stop signalling the end of the character’s statement, but then a speech tag (‘he said’) has been inserted afterwards.

If including a speech tag after a character has spoken, you need to include a comma within the speech marks. This is how that first line should read:


“Let’s go to the park,” he said.


Similarly, if you’re not including a speech tag after the dialogue, you must end the speech with a full-stop, an exclamation mark, or a question mark.


“Shall we go to the park?”

“Let’s go to the park!”

“I want to go to the park.”

“Come with me to the park,” he said.


The difference is, if your character is asking a question, or making a loud exclamation, having a speech tag afterwards is perfectly legal. Exclamation and question marks work like full-stops and commas.


“Shall we go to the park?” he asked.

“Yes! We shall!” she replied.

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Interview with the Author: Derek Smith

3D Point the Finger of BlameHow did your book come about? Where does the inspiration behind the book lie?  

The inspiration came from my vivid imagination, and having worked with many men who were called up for national service in Korea. They were given no choice and as ordinary country folk had little idea what they would face. I have also worked with many Scottish people over the years. Korea is a forgotten war and there seems to be little about it in books and films.


When and why did you begin writing?

I started writing later in my life after I had to take early retirement from work. As a younger man my work and family had to come first and I didn’t have the time, although I always knew I wanted to write a book.


How did you come up with the title?

In the story Jimmy got the blame for many for many things, some he was responsible for but many he wasn’t. It seemed he was always in the wrong place at the wrong time and so it was easy for others to point the finger of blame at him.


Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?

Yes there is: in this day and age no good comes from war.


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An Interview with the Author: Mike Stenson

How did your book come about and where does its inspiration lie?3D Knickers

‘Knickers with a Twist’ is my second self-published volume of humorous rhyming verse, the first being ‘Knickers for Aunt Alice and 64 others’.

      My first book of ‘Knickers’ was published as a direct result of none too subtle wifely enthusiasm coupled to ear bending! My second book of ‘Knickers’ was also published as a result of enthusiastic ear bending, but this time around it also resulted in the much needed tidying of my compact writing zone by the compression of new works accumulated since the publication of ‘Aunt Alice’ into a second volume. A situation that lasted for a very short while!

      For me the inspiration to write abounds in the natural humour of everyday life. My decisions to publish were born of the necessity for small area tidiness and a wifely enthusiasm for both!

      All in all, I believe that I have to be the first person to actually write ‘a pair of knickers’ and the question therefore arises, if I publish a third volume would that equate to a pair and a half or should I call the third book a ‘Thong Book’?

      I already feel ‘inspired’ with such a thought!


Where are you from, and does location have any significance within your book?

I’m a born and bred, blitz surviving, Brummie, (One of Birmingham origins!) now permanently located in the beauty of North Wales and feeling culturally comfortable within both identities!

      My personal Brummie humour is largely based on quick wit and a tad of sarcasm, where Wales permits me an insight into a culture steeped in pride, legend and history, so that both locations have a significance on my inspirations and writing style and both offer all around humour but in totally different cultures!

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An Interview With: Michelle Path

Xalien 1 - 3D book cover

We’ve been lucky enough to grab a few minutes with children’s author, Michelle Path, and interview her on her upcoming series, Xalien the Purple Alien – which is set to be released this weekend.


How did your book come about? Where does the inspiration behind the book lie?

It was a funny thing really. I was out walking the dogs and I was thinking of things to write about when this idea for writing about an alien popped into my head. From there I played around with names and began trying to rhyme to come up with a name when I came up with Xalien.  My star sign is Aquarius so I thought I would make her purple, hence the name Xalien the Purple Alien.

My inspiration for this book came from my fascination with the supernatural and UFO’s.

Where are you from? Does location have any significance with your book?

I am from West Gippsland. It is a small town about 100km east of Melbourne, Australia. Living in the country is lovely. I enjoy the peace and tranquillity. I tend to draw on this as a basis for my writing. I try to write about or incorporate nature into my stories.

When and why did you begin writing?

When I was in primary school, we were asked to write and illustrate a book. I remember I wrote about a dog. The experience never left me.  I began writing as a teenager. I used to come home from school and write.

I think writing found me more than I found writing.  It was something that just came naturally to me. I always had an ambition to have a book published.

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Jason Thorkwell on Writing

3D The QuarrelI always wanted to write a novel. Like most wannabe writers I’ve made numerous attempts at it, though nothing that stuck. I suppose my book – the one that did stick – began life as a Jerry Maguire ‘Mission Statement’ type thing. I wanted to write something that I could give to my daughters when they got old enough, a kind of guide to life. I suppose I wanted to talk to them, without having to actually talk to them. Don’t get me wrong, I want to talk to them! But when they get older (boyfriend age) they won’t want to talk to Dad about ‘stuff.’ My eight year old is already too cool in that respect.

Alcohol, drugs, relationships and the power of emotions, staying safe – online and in the real world – I can just picture them rolling their eyes at me! Writing this book was probably going to be the only way I could get the conversation started. So here it is – my 79 page ice breaker.

So how did it come to be? Well, three things happened:

  1. I watched a film called El Mariachi.
  2. I read Kevin Smith’s thoughts on distributing his film Red State.
  3. I discovered Rowanvale Books.

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Santiago Zoo: The Ugly Truth – by Christine Duts

Rowanvale Books’ author Christine Duts speaks openly about her heartfelt campaign to close Santiago Zoo, in an effort to protect basic animal rights. We ask that you take just five minutes to read her affecting story. 

Mono Araña 5

Twelve years ago, I went to the zoo in Santiago for the first time. There was a tiger and a bear, both in tiny cages. This bear had the saddest face I had ever seen, and the tiger was always pacing back and forth in frustration. He ignored every visitor that came to see him and just kept on pacing, but when I approached him, something happened. He stopped pacing, looked at me and lay down where I was standing. I came back on other occasions, and he always did the same: ignoring everyone else while pacing continuously, but when I came, he lay down by my side. When I moved to the other side of the cage to sit on a bench, he got up again, followed me and lay down at my feet. It was such a magical moment, and I knew that a bond had been forged. I made a promise to that tiger; I promised that I would find a way to get him out of there. Unfortunately, I did not know how – and after a few years I returned to Belgium.

I never forgot about that tiger, and when I finally returned to Los Cabos, I asked about him. When I heard that he had died of starvation, it broke my heart. I had not kept my promise… The bear had also died. In 2013, I started looking at ways to help those animals in the Santiago Zoo. It was in the December that I went back for the first time in many years to take photos. There were fewer animals there, and the ones that were left were living in horrible conditions. There was a lioness now, and she was extremely thin. She just lay there, depressed and miserable.

This zoo is a place of misery, starvation, filth, disease, and depression. Animals live in small, dirty cages with cement floors. I have seen animals with advanced infections and no visible treatment.Aves heces en la pared 2


Where is the veterinarian? Why does he not take care of them? The spider monkey belongs to a species that is in danger of extinction and, for that reason alone, it cannot be locked up in such horrible conditions. The badger is extremely frustrated and angry; the macaw is the only surviving macaw of many others and it is the saddest bird I have ever seen. The water of the duck pond is filthy, and there are many feces smeared on the walls of the bird cages. They are dark and dirty. The raven is losing its feathers and has infected skin; the coyotes are always afraid and one of them paces continuously; the python´s enclosure is much too small; the spider monkey, a companion animal, lives all alone in its cage and is craving love and attention. It is bored and needs to be with other spider monkeys. The coati is frustrated and lonely; the foxes are lethargic, and the wild cats are usually growling angrily at each other.

Coyotes 1

I contacted animal rights organizations that are known internationally, but their responses were vague and it took me a long time to establish useful contacts. In May 2014 the lion finally died… and at that point I began my campaign, still not having had any help from organizations like Peta or HSI, but unwilling to wait any longer. The campaign was received very well by the locals. Most, if not almost all, wanted the zoo closed. I made a proposal towards anything that could be done with the place, once the zoo was closed down – a proposal that would bring more income to the local town and which would require little investment: the creation of a kids’ recreational center, with football and basketball courts, camping, theatre, workshops, cultural activities, etc. I had a meeting with the Director of Ecology, who also turned out to be the Zoo Director. He appeared to be very enthusiastic about my ideas and gave me the impression that he was completely involved. He promised he would talk to the Mayor and offer a proposal.

Zorros 5

I left this meeting with my hopes up, but later realized that it had been a waste of time. The Director of Ecology never meant a word he said, and I never heard from him again. He ignored my calls and emails, and, eventually, I gave up on him. Through the campaign I met a woman who became my strongest ally, and she and I got a meeting with Profepa, the judicial wildlife protection agency, on 11 June.

We spoke to tMono Araña 2he Director who told us that “this case was already open, due to other complaints filed”. We were going to file an official complaint as well, but since Profepa’s director told us that “the case was already open“, and “that we should not think that Profepa does not do anything”, we believed him and did not file a complaint, naturally assuming that they were doing their job. I sent a letter in which I suggested several sanctuaries for different animals. He stamped the letter in receipt and gave us a copy. He told us that they would get all the animals out, but that they needed time and discretion for such a task. He also said that the Mayor “had had his opportunity, and that it was too late for him now – that now it was out of his hands”. He asked us for discretion, in order to get the animals out “without interference from the Mayor”. It was a strange request, but since he represented an official governmental institution that is supposed to protect wildlife, we continued.

I collected donations for the spider monkey’s trip to its sanctuary, and for the other animals too. After a few weeks I realized that Profepa were also wasting our time, that they had told us half-truths or just lied to us, and that they would not lift a finger for the animals. They took advantage of our lack of experience with official institutions (or our lack of experience with dishonesty?) and effectively stalled us indefinitely. Although the population of Los Cabos, La Paz, and Santiago want the zoo closed, the mayor does not want to close the zoo, and the director of ecology and Profepa do not seem interested in helping the animals either. In this zoo, 90% of the animals have died there over the last 30 years. The tiger, the bear, and several lions have all starved to death. One visitor told me that she saw a lion having no choice but to lie in his own urine and excrement. It did not even have the strength to lift its body – no will to live, no will to do even the most basic things. Someone else said that she watched a visitor giving the spider monkey a coke…

Mapaches 13

It is a sad, depressing place. A prison for animals, which is mistakenly called a “zoo”, and the authorities want this zoo to be kept open. Articles have appeared in local newspapers, stating that work will be done and that the zoo will be improved and become an ecology park, but that needs a lot of investment, and they do not even have trained staff to look after the animals. The work was supposed to have started in July, but nothing has been done. Similar projects were proposed in previous years, but never realized. We are being asked to remain quiet, to believe these “articles”.

Oso Hormiguero 2Coati


We have found beautiful sanctuaries for the animals, raised some money for their transportation, and made a viable and lucrative proposal for the zoo once it has been closed. All we need is the documents and a signature from Profepa, but they do not seem to want to do their job. Nobody seems to want to do their job. How many more animals have to die for the authorities to see sense and do what they are paid to do? Why so many lies? For what purpose do they want this misery to continue? Why are they not listening to their citizens, who want the zoo closed and the animals sent to sanctuaries? How is it possible that a place like Los Cabos, where so much money flows in, boasting many five star exclusive hotels, private beach homes owned by Hollywood stars, and world class golf courses, insists on keeping such a miserable animal prison? I just don’t understand the insistence on cruelty. What educational value is there for our children? There is none.

For more information on Santiago Zoo please watch the following video:

If you feel, as Christine does, that these animals deserve a better home then please, help make a difference by signing the petition: (Note: Your browsers translate function must be turned on for English language speakers)

Please note that the views expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily of Rowanvale Books or any of its staff.

3D-Book-cover - A RIGHT TO LIVEIf you’ve been affected by what you’ve read today then we urge you to pick up a copy of A Right to Live, Christine Duts’ upcoming novel, in which she explores further the treatment of animals living in Mexico. Her story centres around Rusty, a young puppy, who is faced with the struggle against homelessness and hunger that many dogs in Central America must battle with on a daily basis. The book will be available in all eBook formats from the 31st August – you can read more about the novel at:

Interview with the Author – B.

3D The Claws of the EarthHow did your book come about? Where does the inspiration behind the book lie?  

I see something, or hear a piece of music that sets off a chain of reactions in my foggy mind. Cogwheels start turning and grinding. Then, one day I sit behind my desk and start to draw a picture with words. The picture starts to move in my mind like a movie and I write what I see happening. Do I know where the story will take me? No, I let myself be swept along with it.


Where are you from? Does location have any significance with your book?

I am from Holland, I live near the coast and make long walks in the forests. There I see the twisted shapes of the trees and they usually give me inspiration. Or the quietness of the forest.


Do you have a specific writing style?

Readers say my books read like watching a movie.


Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?

All I want is to give readers a little time in a different world, so that they can forget their daily worries.


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