Can you do too much research?
I love it when an idea for a book turns into a research project. But what to do with all that you learn when ninety percent of the research doesn’t actually make it into the book? That’s what happened with the research I did for my most recent release, My Gentleman Thief, although the ten percent that did makes it richer and more interesting.
My heroine is the youngest sister of the Grace sisters, whom we met in A Dandy in Disguise (the eldest, Rose is the heroine of that book, and the middle sister, Laia has her own book, My Lord Ghost). All I knew of Thalia when I began thinking about her book was that she was an adventurous, outgoing, horse-loving girl and she grew up on an archaeological site in Greece. It made sense to me, therefore, that she would want to return to Greece, the place where she’d been happiest. And then I started researching Greece in the early 1800s.
I read travelogues of how to get there – if you go over land, be prepared to camp out because there are no inns along the way. If you go by sea, it’s a rough journey from England and there weren’t a lot of ships going that route. Oh, and then I learned that the Greek Revolution—when they fought for their independence from the Ottoman Empire began right around then. Yikes!
So how was I going to get a single young woman to Greece on the verge of war on her own? It seemed to be impossible!
Since I couldn’t get Thalia to Greece, I decided to bring Greece to her in England—in the form of my hero, Yiannis Istoriakis. He is sent to England by his father with the job of cataloging Greek artifacts which are privately owned. He has no idea that his country is on the brink of war, but he’s a passionate young man who takes his job very seriously… which leads to him doing a lot more than his father ever intended!
The most fun part of doing research, of course, is going to where the book is set—if that’s possible. When I first began doing my research for My Gentleman Thief, I did have the opportunity to go to Athens.
Not only did I have a great (although windy) time strolling through the Acropolis, I also spent a good amount of time wandering through the halls of the Archaeological Museum (fantastic, if you ever get to Athens, I highly recommend going).
What I was interested in, since I’d decided to keep the action all within England, was the trade of Greek artifacts. We all know about Elgin (did you know that he originally asked to be sent to Egypt and Greece on diplomatic duty because he was extremely sick and thought that the air in those countries could cure him?) and how he removed many pieces from the site of the Acropolis in order to “save” them from vandalism, but what happened after that? Greek design and styles were all the rage in the Regency, from the styles of women’s dresses (those lovely high-waisted diaphanous gowns were based on ancient Greek styles) to furniture. Surely, those who could afford them, were buying actual Greek artifacts to decorate their homes, weren’t they?
Yes, they were, and as a result of this, I learned that a committee was set up soon after the revolution to regulate which pieces were allowed to be sold and which couldn’t be. The amazing thing, to me, is that there was one man on that committee (Athanasios Rhousopoulos), a noted scholar and archaeologist who was well known for having an incredible collection (his home was essentially a museum) who also made money selling these artifacts to foreigners (he later got in trouble for influencing the committee regarding a particular rare perfume pot and then selling it for a large amount of money). I tried so hard to figure out a way to include him in my story, and yet, I just couldn’t do it—the story was set too early to include his nefarious activities.
Because of the timing of the story, I focused instead on learning all I could about the beginning of the Greek revolution and what was known about it in England. I read newspapers from the time and even got to include a clipping from one in the book itself.
So what did I do with all the research I did? Well, I just shared some of it with you, that’s what!
I truly do wish I could have included much more in the actual story. Sadly, it just wasn’t possible. Hopefully, however, it colors the story adding depth and believability to what is otherwise, a light and frivolous tale.