Doing Research for a Fantasy Novel

Why on earth would one do research for a fantasy novel set in an imaginary world? You make it all up, right?
Well, sort of. But it has to be believable. Which sounds weird, but if the world is not internally consistent, then the reader loses interest. One way to make a pre-industrial society of a fantasy world believable is to know how people used to do things way back when in our world. Actually there I have a head start over many younger writers. I saw my mother make soap/butter/cream/jam/ginger beer/ out of raw ingredients, or gut a chicken, or trim a lamp or darn the heel of a sock or cook over a wood fire. I saw my father skin a sheep, hang a gate, use a whetstone, milk a cow, build a house with only the simplest of tools and so on – all sights most Westerners never see any more.

When I moved to Asia there were other things to see or to learn: using a hand turned grindstone to make flour, winnowing rice, grating coconuts the traditional way, using a loom, weaving mats by hand, using leaves as plates and countless other ways of living with the natural and making do without the manufactured.

However, if I do need information outside my own knowledge, I delve into one of these two books by John Seymour. A wonderful source of info on everything from making a wooden bucket, or an ice house, or a birch broom to what are the contents of a tinder box.

Titles: The Forgotten Arts: A Practical Guide to Traditional Skills (more about farming and building) and Forgotten Household Crafts (about cooking and housekeeping). The fascinating thing about both books is that he wrote about things he himself could do, or he went to people who still knew how to do these traditional arts and asked them.

 I am going to continue this theme in my next post…and show you some more of the texts I am dipping into for my next books.


Doing Research for a Fantasy Novel — 6 Comments

  1. These are great! I always wonder on some of the things that are to be done or where done. 🙂 I will have to remember about these. THank you!

  2. I remember some of those things, but I guess my part of the UK was less primitive than your part of Oz. I certainly learned to darn, I was 'darn good at it' sorry!!! I once made butter myself, by accident, whipping English cream on a warm day. It wasn't bad butter either. Don't think you could do that with cream here. In our long lives we have had to do a lot of things which today, have the drudgery taken out of them. Look at computers compared to the original typewriters just for a start.

  3. I was just thinking I have a book you would like, Mrs. Beeton's Household Management published in 1935. Apart from being a wonderful source for recipes, it also tells people how to run households, how to sweep carpets using tea leaves and so on. Wonderful book even if it is somewhat dilapidated and falling to pieces.

  4. I love those books and I've seen and done a lot of the things you mentioned too – just because I thought they were things we should know how to do – but I think even in our age group I was fairly unusual. When I was nineteen I went away with a group of girls the same age and stayed in a pretty primitive beach shack. Of the four of us I was the only one who could lay a fire, cook on a wood stove and catch and clean fish. I think because my family has a farming background and we went camping a lot – plus my parents always worked on the assumption that if you could make it yourself you should – I learned a lot that others didn't.

  5. Nick Hand..often travels around the UK on his bicycle with his laptop and camera interviewing arts and crafts people..there are some fantastic videos of people talking about their work..
    The most recent post was about the last glove maker in Worcester…might help to see them in the workplace!

  6. Yeah, I was the same, Helen. A farm kid. Caught my first fish around 5 yrs old and was cleaning my own from 7 yrs on. And that meant catching the bait to start with, and tying on the hooks etc, as well. Never even thought it unusual.

    I've heard about the Mrs B., but never seen the original one.

    Thanks for the link, Spikeabell – fascinating!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.