12 October 2009

Research: Russia

By Isabel Roman

1855 Russia. Nuff said.

Seriously, though, researching anything in nineteenth century Russia is near impossible because everything is in Russian! To overcome that hurdle, I had to rely heavily on Wikipedia, encyclopedias and tourist books. I even called the Foy line. Twice!

Now I understand why most historicals take place in England or some English speaking area. However, writing in an unusual locale can be very exciting. Most readers want to be transported to somewhere exotic, mysterious, and new. Most places that fit that bill are non-English speaking so finding out historical detail can be extremely challenging.

Pulling the curtain back just enough to look out the window, Katria watched the city pass by. Several people braved the icy sidewalks to shop along Nevsky Prospekt. Even with the shortages caused by the Turkish ships blockading the city, the shop owners always had wares to sell. They passed Trinity Square, rounding Kamennoostrovsky Prospekt.
Fashion presented its own problems. Anything worn in England or France was readily available, but in Russia? Well, if I squinted hard enough, through a microscope at the one or two paintings of balls, I could tell the clothing sorta looked like standard French fashion. Luckily, I was right, and found a couple sources to verify that they followed the French in fashion at least.

Alexander Palace is a great resource, even though they concentrate mostly on Nicholas II, not Nicholas I, the tsar during the Crimean War, which is when KISS OF SCANDAL is set. I got lucky in that I centered my story around a major historical figure and major event. A lot of what I needed, I found out through reading about Tsar Nicholas I. If there was no major historical figure/event? Find one and research that, then extrapolate as much as possible.

It wasn't difficult to find Nicholas. The state rooms were half empty, so Nikolai followed the long line of people to where the tsar held court. He wasn't surprised the masses parted for him, but he was surprised when Nicholas wordlessly gestured to a private salon.
Researching an unusual time frame in history is a challenge and invigorating, but for most of us sane writer's (I do not necessarily fall into this category) it's tedious, time consuming, and frustrating. Everyday life is probably the most frustrating aspect. It's pretty easy to find information on battles, battle tactics and all things military, but everyday life in a particular city can get rather iffy. When writing a historical there are times when I was forced to make an educated guess. So I took what you know of the rest of the world, of the city I wrote in, St. Petersburg, and see what the differences were.

Slipping them into the folio, he drew back the curtain and watched the Winter Palace. The columns passed by and he tried to guess what rooms hid behind the multi-layered façade. The night was clear and the moon reflected off the snow, illuminating the gilt. Courtiers came and went, none sending his carriage more than a passing glance.

They rounded the Palace to where the Third Section offices lay. A pair of guards stood beside the one door in the Palace with little obvious activity. Barely waiting for the horses to stop, Constantine leapt from the carriage and headed for the door.