This post was originally written for Risky Regencies.
The Duke and the Pirate Queen isn’t a historical. However, it is set in a fantasy world, and I’ve often noted that my approach to creating a fantasy world is very similar to the way I research to write a historical novel. The difference is in the variety of sources I feed into my brain. My subconscious, which I call my “backbrain,” assimilates all the information and, hopefully, leaves me with an idea of a world that holds together like a “real” world. My theory is that my own “voice,” as it were, imposes a kind of internal consistency on the ideas I choose to include.
I use history as a guide. Most of the countries in The Duke and the Pirate Queen are loosely based on one culture or another, sometimes with elements from different time periods depending on the thematic needs of the scenes I’ve set there. The Duke Maxime’s duchy, for example, is essentially a Mediterranean setting. Captain Imena Leung comes from an empire similar to fifteenth century China that is plagued by ninth century-style Japanese pirates.
Another important research source for The Duke and The Pirate Queen was its predecessor, The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom & Their Lover. I carefully went through my manuscript file and copied out all descriptions of the characters I planned to use again as well as all the descriptions of Maxime’s palace. I kept those bits of text on hand while writing new scenes set in Maxime’s duchy, to ensure internal consistency between the two novels.
For the main ship featured in the novel, Seaflower, I relied on a wide range of research material, most of it relating to ships used in the Napoleonic Wars, some to modern sailing ships. This was partly because I already had an interest in that period, and there are plenty of resources; but also as an homage to the sea adventure novels of Patrick O’Brian and C.S. Forrester, which influenced several events that take place in the story. I returned to O’Brian’s novels themselves to put a little more life into my understanding of sailing ships.
Finally, most of the plot turns on long-distance trade. When I first conceived the novel, I had not yet figured this out. The idea came later, from my pleasure reading; or rather, reading I knew might be useful to the story, except I pretended it wouldn’t, so I could pretend it was for pleasure!
Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices by Andrew Dalby and Sweets: A History of Candy by Tim Richardson added immeasurably to the “feel” of a world newly discovering trans-oceanic trade: “Whole pears, glittering with an armor of sugar crystals, spilled from a brightly polished silver bowl, and a mixture of saffron pastilles and candied violets adorned a perfect marzipan replica of the king’s castle.”
Those two books also provided me with an important character motivation, which I won’t reveal here. If I hadn’t been reading “outside” books, the novel would have been much poorer for it.
The final research source I used might not really count as research. I think of it as mining my own brain. All the research I’ve done before is in my brain, somewhere. When writing a fantasy novel, bits and pieces I may not even consciously remember rise to the surface and fill in gaps with my own voice.
Nothing I read is ever wasted.