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Equipment for Victorian climbers: puttees

Regular readers will be aware that, during my time in Glencoe, I did a bit of practical research into 19th century climbing equipment. It’s a subject that has been very influential towards my writing. The Victorian pioneers climbed mountains in a very different way to the mountaineers of the

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Facts and the historical novelist

Fact or fiction? The historical novelist has a very important responsibility. Most people stop formally learning about history at school, which means that as an adult, the bulk of our historical education comes from fiction: in the broadest possible sense, that includes books, movies, and costume dramas on the BBC.

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The writer’s notebook(s)

Notebooks are about feel, mood, and introspection–not utility. Before I begin this post celebrating notebooks, I have a confession to make: I hardly ever use them. I write historical fiction set in the 19th century and love the aesthetics of that era, but am also a self-confessed computer geek.

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Aerial views of London from 1891

The Strand in 1891 a key setting for my work Image credit: Although I have never lived in London and only visited on rare occasions, the sprawling Victorian metropolis plays a vital role in my work. Many of the leading British climbers of the era lived

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A gold mine

Just when I thought I was coming to the end of the research I have to do on my new project, something else has turned up to demonstrate just how little I know! I’ve been doing some research into Albert Smith, a popular mid-Victorian writer, and in the course

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The boundary between research and prewriting

I’m gradually coming to the end of the research I originally planned for my new book. Since this project is set in a period of time that was until recently unfamiliar to me, the reading list was huge and the list of things to research even longer. I’m

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Terra Incognita

Part of my research for 1848 has involved a study of the cartography and glaciology of that decade. The Alps were only partially explored, despite Chamouni (modern-day Chamonix) being almost permanently overrun by tourists from every corner of Europe. Mont Blanc had been climbed dozens of times, but most other

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Words of wisdom from Professor James Forbes

Professor James Forbes (1809 – 1868) was, in many ways, the first British explorer of the European Alps. Many other British climbers had scaled Mont Blanc, or journeyed throughout the Alps and climbed various mountains here and there–but none of them, until this remarkable man came along, ever made a