This week the Weekly Challenge actually interested me, it reminds me of the ‘off the cuff writing’ I have to do for one of my University papers. With this in mind, and the title of today’s post, I selected the image ‘Creativity’.
And while I’ll admit the picture on it’s own did nothing for me; the picture with the caption ‘creativity’ did. When the Challenge post first appeared in my inbox, I thought wow, I can wax lyrical on the joys of researching for a novel; then I opened the post and saw that I was supposed to be inspired by the photographs. I’m not really one who gets excited to write by a single image, or even a handful of unconnected images. After reading the whole post (not giving up and clicking away from the page like I had been tempted to do), I saw a list of key words that doubled as links and that was what finally convinced me to write this post.
The best part is I can still try and get you excited about the research that I am completely engrossed in – to the point of considering writing this tomorrow as the Libraries and archives will be closed for Waitangi Day; but all the books I was working through yesterday appear to have grown legs and wandered off, so today it is.
Research that you have to do, is boring and unexciting. Research that you have chosen to do can be equally dull; but for me it is exciting finding out long awaited answers to questions, and even entirely new information that I didn’t even know I was looking for until I stumbled across it.
The current project is research for a novel that I will write when I have finished the one I am writing at every available opportunity. My novel will be set in Victorian Dunedin, New Zealand; and the locals (as well as the community over on Wattpad.com) are those that are most likely to read it. Which means that I can’t simply make it all up. Of course the best novels are the ones (as my father is constantly telling me… and I blame him for my addiction to all things literary) that have enough truth mixed in with the bullshit to make it believable and interesting.
So, this means that I have to find out how to use Pounds, Shillings, and Pence; as well as the relative costs of rent and food – which it turns out were in opposite proportion to today. In Victorian (London) most of the wage of a working class man would be spent on food to feed his family, and as little as 20% would be spent housing them. While today, food though not cheap does not take up such a large portion of the weekly (or other pay schedule) budget, however rent, or mortgage payments are predominantly the largest ongoing cost.
The little details like this, that don’t take away from the story are what gives it a sense of reality, plausibility even. Some of the facts I have been digging up are deeply amusing; for instance, though Victorian’s didn’t have cosmetics as we know them, cosmetics were certainly available. Victorian men were as vain as any modern metro-man (Sorry, giggling about the unintended Megamind reference) and were more likely, than ladies, to be wearing obviously wearing cosmetics. Pale was the desired complexion of the time, if only because it screamed one’s social status – if you were pale you weren’t spending unnecessary time out doors, working. Ladies (and not so ladylike women) often used skin creams, such as a cold cream or vanishing cream, and then they would often wear talcum or rice powder to ensure a pale, unblemished complexion. The wealthy could afford to use rouge to brighten their cheeks to make them appear healthy, in their pallor; while the poor would either use a dye made of beet juice, or pinch their cheeks for colour.
Their homes were equally fascinating, as this is where the wealthy came over quite virtuous. While the public areas of the house may be elaborate, filled with fancy furniture and knick-knacks; the bedrooms were almost spartan. The furniture would be well made, but simple; there was very little furniture: a bed, a toilet table, and a chair – maybe a writing desk. Servants, even in especially wealthy homes, often slept on a pallet made up each night in their area of work, i.e. the kitchen floor in front of the fire, and the butler in either the scullery or the pantry. Packing away their would need to be their absolute first task in the morning, before they began the day’s work.
Hmmm, reading back what I have just written makes me think that it’s just me who would be interested. And perhaps that is true.
Like any job that is time consuming, when it is going well it can be easy to lose track of time. After being (only five minutes) late to pick up my son from school yesterday, I have today set an alarm on my phone so that I will know when to pull the plug and get packed up. Yesterday, I was deep in the stacks at the University library being fascinated by a book (which I haven’t had a chance to read due to it’s recent growth of legs, and bout of wanderlust) about sex and drugs in Victorian New Zealand; when I realised that I should have been leaving. If you really want to do research, the internet is a fantastic tool, but nothing beats wandering the relevant section of the local library; there will always be something that will at least make you smile, if not actually be useful.
The other thing that can be fun when attempting research, is to write down what you want to know; and then list below it all the different ways you can think of to say the same thing. Google and library catalogues can be effectively pumped for information this way, as each different search will reveal at least one new result on Google; libraries will have a finite number of results (varying subject to subject), due to the limited number of subject words each book is tagged with, and of course there are only so many books (though that is often a sickeningly high number), but you should at least get a few new results out of the exercise.
So long, and thanks for all the fish.