Research: Darling or Demon?

So, when you’re writing an historical novel, research is sometimes

fascinating and often frustrating. And sometimes, it’s downright maddening.


For instance, how long would it take my protagonist, Mary Boland, to cross the

Atlantic from Ireland to Boston in a ship like the one above back in 1849?


Or, how does one get in touch with a friend in 1849 if she really, really needs to talk to

him? She sure can’t pick up a phone or shoot him an email or a tweet.


Answer? She has to borrow a wagon, rig up the horse, climb in and say, “Yeehaw!”

Unless she wants to ride the horse or walk. Hmmm…decisions, decisions.


One thing about research, though, it absolutely, positively must be



What amazes me is that anything ever got written before we had computers. Of

course, they make it easier to edit your manuscript and search for overused words.


But the biggest hurdle without a computer would be research. Especially if you’re

writing a historical novel like Shanty Gold.


You must be so very careful about period details. In this case, from mid-19th century

Ireland and Boston. To ensure accuracy, I traveled often to Ireland and Boston. I

actually drove the road Mary Boland would have walked from Kinsale to Cobh.


Ireland is on the metric system and all my research indicated that had always been

the case. So, I talked in kilometres (the English spelling) when it came to distances.

When my agent sent me edits, she insisted on miles.


Ha! I thought, smugly. I was very certain. But guess what? One last obscure piece of

data I found indicated that Ireland measured distances in “Irish” miles until 1870. My

book is set in 1849. Now, God only knows what an “Irish” mile really was, but……