I love having a reference book open in front of me as I write. I have a floor-to-ceiling bookcase devoted entirely to such tomes. That isn’t to say I don’t do online research as well—I do, and plenty of it—but there’s something about flipping through pages of detailed ink drawings of old maps or clothing patterns, or looking at beautiful photographs of vintage hats and bonnets that really gets my creativity percolating. As a regular post on my blog, I'll share some of my favorites with you.
As a historical romance writer, I adore those little details that transports us to long-gone places, although I think we can all agree that paragraph after paragraph of descriptions can read more like a dull grocery list, and doesn’t do anything for the reader. I think the most effective way of recreating a former time and place is by incorporating those glimpses into daily life that read like pops of bright color, and John Seymour’s book The Forgotten Arts & Crafts is an excellent tool for doing just that. I bought it at Barnes and Noble years ago and have utilized it too many times to count. The cover of his book boasts “skills from bygone days,” and it certainly delivers on its promise. It’s filled with over three hundred pages of gorgeous ink drawings that remind me of the graphic design classes I took in college. Every obscure craft you can think of is represented between its covers, from blacksmithing to making bricks and paper, to producing soap and candles.
Want to see what a 19th century French bath looks like? How about intricate wooden butter prints? Who even knew such things as butter prints existed? Want to know the difference between a Holstein cow and a Jersey cow? Don’t care? Well, maybe you’re curious to know the difference between a cob and a bloomer? They’re bread shapes, by the way. I couldn’t begin to list all of the interesting skills and various gizmos represented in The Forgotten Arts & Crafts, but there’s plenty of fodder for the romance novelist, even the less romantic aspects from the past, like how an earth closet worked. On a side note, can you believe one of the many souls who perfected the workings of the modern toilet was actually named Crapper? My inner nine-year-old is giggling immaturely right now.
I don’t know how appealing such a book would be to someone who doesn’t write historical novels, but it’s a cornucopia of lovely little particulars for those of you out there who are dying to know how to keep bees, or maybe how to shear a sheep if one happens to roam by! I referred to Seymour’s book several times while writing Clingstone, particularly to describe the various household items that Mae had to leave behind during her eviction, and of course to learn some of the terminology common in the textile crafts.
So if you’re a writer and would love to have another research tool in your belt, Seymour’s book can still be found on Amazon and is available for purchase by clicking here.