How to research Historical Fiction

Hi Everyone

Today’s blog comes to you from the middle of a snap lockdown. I hope wherever you are, you’re travelling well!

In the lead up to the actual writing of ‘The Sentinel’, I spent many hours, days and weeks researching background facts for the novel.

This blog post is going ‘behind-the-scenes’ to show you the nitty-gritty of historical fiction research. I’ll also put in a list of sites I found very useful (these are Victorian-based but there are most likely similar institutions in your state/country).

After the initial idea had seeded and I’d worked on characters and plot, I turned to researching the time and place my novel was set. It was one of the really fun parts of the whole writing process.

As I’ve said in previous posts (here), the Guardian’s ‘How to write a book in 30 days’ worksheets helped me enormously.

The initial research list

This was the first research list I created but, as with all research, one trail can quickly lead to another. One of the hardest parts was knowing when to stop!

Once I had a list of questions together, I started the research process.

I was able to source many documents thanks to online portals through the State Library of Victoria.

Every Saturday for months, I trekked to the gracious building and read and read and read. I talked about the joy of discovering Henry Bayles Ford’s journals (Lightkeeper at Cape Otway lighthouse for years) here.

As I read, I took copious notes in my workbooks. At the top of the page I wrote the reference information (or took a picture and copied it across later). It was very important to have accurate information on the sources so that a) I could find them again, and b) to construct the bibliography. Others may use software such as Endnote but I didn’t have access to this and did my referencing manually.

Any source I used, whether library based or not, I used the same method; whether it was a visit to a lighthouse or website or museum.

Wilson’s Prom lighthouse – a trip here led to my writing ‘The Sentinel’

I have my bibliography as a download for those who wish to subscribe to my newsletter here.

Some of the sites I used include the following: – for a fascinating resource called ‘Vision and realisation: a centenary history of state education in Victoria’

And, Maas Museum, Museums Victoria,, as well as many others.

One of the best sources of help I found however, was through a wonderful service that the State Library of Victoria offers which is the ‘Ask a librarian’ link. When I found it difficult to source information, I used ‘Ask a librarian’ to help me. The results were incredible! The librarians would respond with leads I’d never considered as well as providing valuable and detailed information.

I hope this post has inspired you with your own research.

Until next time,


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2 thoughts on “How to research Historical Fiction

  1. I admire historical fiction authors. I have difficult time writing a story in the present world we live in, much less one from the past. Thanks for sharing your process. I would like to write something historical one day.


    1. Hi there @christawojo – thanks so much for the comment! I actually really enjoy the research part. The hardest thing I personally find is then weaving the research into the novel so it reads as seamlessly as possible. All the best 🙂 Jacqui


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