13. Researching Manuscripts

Welcome to my blog about Researching Manuscripts.

I’ve always been interested in books and by chance I stumbled upon an article about the Rothschild’s Book of Hours confiscated by the Nazi’s which was sold at auction for over £8 million. Obviously great book fodder for me! It was interesting because the colourful prayerbook filled with texts, prayers and psalms was one of many made in the Netherlands at the beginning of the 1500’s by Flemish illustrators in Bruges and Ghent. By coincidence, I’d just returned from a few days visiting the city and I wanted to use it as a location in my next novel.

My curiosity was peaked. I was hooked. In order to use a Book of Hours as a pivotal plot, I needed to establish three things about the manuscript:

Embed from Getty Images

Credibility – The manuscript couldn’t be one that exists today in a museum, church or gallery so I decided to create a Book of Hours made in the 1500’s when Flemish Illustrators were revered and the manuscripts were seen as a fashion accessory. Joanna of Castile (1479 -1555) was often better known as Juana la Loca, and after her husband’s death in 1506, was deemed mentally ill and confined to a nunnery for the rest of her life. Although a book was made for her, it seemed logical to me that another Book of Hours would have been great comfort to the Queen. I imagined it to be passed down through wealthy families and then to the church for safekeeping. By creating the backstory for the book I created credibility for my crime.

AuthenticityThe detail is essential. The colours, the designs and even the illustrators are based on truth. Describing the book and the handwritten drawings and detail bring the pages to life. It adds value to the novel and the readers are at once able to believe that these books are a rarity, treasured and often put on display by museums or lent by the church for exhibitions. Having visited Bruges, I was particularly interested in the Book of Hours originating in Bruges so that I could incorporate my experience of this beautiful city into my crime novel.

ReliabilityThe reader relies on the author. They expect details to be plausible if not true. During the course of the novel they subconsciously expect facts to be challenged, upheld or proved. The reliability of authenticity is validated by my characters Simon Fuller and Marina Thoss, two experts who authenticate the manuscript. Using their experience and through dialogue, I convince the reader that what they are reading is not fake. They are in no doubt about the origins of the manuscript and in the epilogue I re-emphasise one of my expert’s authority when Simon Fuller says:

‘It’s become easier to spot a fake,’ explains Simon, ‘and art experts have much more technology at their disposal now; radiometric dating, infrared spectroscopy and gas chromatography…the balance of power is about to change with the breakthrough of more forgery detection in diverse fields. Authenticators will soon be using Artificial Intelligence, Bitcoin and protein analysis-’
‘It all sounds very complicated,’ interrupts Dolores.

It shows the reader that I have done my homework and they can trust me as an author. Hopefully they will also achieve a sense of satisfaction as they close the book thinking they have learnt something new, something they didn’t know before and that keeps them interested and they might even say:
‘I enjoyed that book – I wonder what else Janet has written.’
And that’s when I, as an author, get the buzz. I enjoy entertaining people and the biggest compliment is when someone says how much they enjoyed reading my work.

REMEMBER: When you research you are passing the information on to your reader. It’s important to be accurate but also to create fiction at the same time to make it an enjoyable reading experience.

Next Blog Post: How I Wrote about Drones.

Rothschild’s Book of Hours
Juana la Loca
Book of Hours Bruges

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