I have, at last, introduced you to the novel. And I've been asked to write about how I researched it.
Oh Val, do you have any idea what you've asked for? I love research, the general digging about and discovering all sorts of unnecessary detail. It's one reason this book has taken forever.
I had four different settings to uncover, and so kept them in very distinct folders. I shall tell you about each one in the order I worked on them. (And have no doubt this will spread over several blogs - that's how much fun I had!) What I'm not going to tell you is how much of this is in the novel!
I began with New Zealand - because that's where I 'found' her. (If you've no idea what I'm talking about, scroll down to the last post.) I had the notes from my own stay there, and so know just how the wind blows from the mountains, and how cold the sea is (the current flows up from the Antarctic - I paddled for three whole waves before retreating to the beach with blue feet). And I'd seen pictures and stories from the gold rush days, and so had some idea of the chaos - and how difficult life was for the few women who lived there.
Once back in the UK I contacted the curator of the museum in Hokitika, to see if she could tell me any more about Barbara Weldon than I already knew. She couldn't, but she was kind and encouraging, which was good enough for me. Next, I accessed court records from the time (available online) - and could see just how often my heroine had been before the magistrates, and - given that these were rough times - the efforts that were made to support her. Her fines were often significantly lower than other offenders, and her prison terms shorter. Her offences - pilfering, drunkenness, and trying to kill herself by walking into the sea. (Some poor policeman had to wade in after her and pull her out, then bring her to court as attempting suicide was illegal. Prostitution, however, was not.)
From there, it was a question of reading as much background stuff as I could and piecing together details about transport, dress, etc to give me enough to make fill in the blanks.
And then I wrote the chapter set in New Zealand. But she died there - where did she come from? My next blog will take us to Ireland.