Sam Julian
Sam Julian asked Tracy Chevalier:

What is your research process like, and how do you check your work for historical accuracy? Can you describe an instance when you decided, for dramatic or plot purposes, it was better to overlook historical precedent?

Tracy Chevalier Hi Sam,

My research process tends to involve first a lot of reading around a subject - whether it's Vermeer, fossils, or apple trees. I get the period set, then research the history (political a little bit, social a lot) of that time, to try to understand the people I'm writing about. Once I start writing I often have to stop again and research more, as the story leads me into things I don't know about and have to find out about. For instance, bonnet and hat-making in The Last Runaway. That came about in the second draft, and I had to stop writing and go find a millinery class to sit in on, and a hat expert to talk to.

I try to be accurate by cross-checking information, reading several books on the subject, and not relying on the internet, which doesn't have the editorial checks that books do (or used to do).

It can be tricky wrestling with historical facts, as they don't tend to fall into the story arc a writer is looking for. By and large I stick with the truth, but I often choose subjects where we don't know much, where there are gaps to be filled in with reasonable conjecture. I remember with Remarkable Creatures - about the fossil hunter Mary Anning - I really wanted Mary to go up to London to an important scientific meeting. But I knew in real life she didn't go - she only visited London once, much later in life - and I couldn't bring myself to break that fact. Instead I took another character - Elizabeth Philpot, who also existed but we don't know as much about her - and had HER go to the meeting, and sit outside the room (women weren't allowed) in a drafty corridor to listen to the proceedings.

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