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Research: From Pure Facts to Bloody Truths

Photo by Meagan Ashleigh-Moeyaert

As I approach the ten-year anniversary of the beginnings of my writing journey, I can’t help but think of some of the crazy things I’ve had to research. Of course I expected to go digging for first-person accounts of the times and for just the exact details about battles and political chicanery back in the days of the American Revolution and afterwards, but looking up how to bleed a cow or just where Carolinian forest is, well, those were surprises.

Here are some of the things I’ve had to research for my novels:

  1. Tarring and feathering. In the first book of my Loyalist trilogy, Lucy’s father experiences this inhumane method of punishment. Believe me, reading about it does not make it seem any less gruesome; in fact, so gruesome that sometimes people died from it.

  2.  Skinning a raccoon. This description was part of the first draft of The Loyalist’s Wife as Lucy tried to hold on to her land while her husband was off fighting with the British. The account didn’t survive revision but I learned both how to do the skinning and how to write its description in an interesting fashion.

  3. Carolinian forest. Did you know that Carolinian forest grows from the Carolinas right up into Ontario? And that some of the trees in that forest are ash, birch, chestnut, hickory, oak and walnut? I needed those notes to make sure the specific trees I mentioned actually grew where I said they did.

  4. Battles around Niagara in the War of 1812. These were particularly bloody as the Niagara peninsula saw a lot of killing and cannonading as did the whole of Southern Ontario. As a person who grew up in Southern Ontario, I was surprised to learn the facts and wrote about them in both The Loyalist’s Luck and The Loyalist Legacy.

  5. The Portage Road on both sides of the Niagara River. I still have visions of huge oxen pulling wagons loaded with settlers’ supplies up the hills to get to the level of Niagara Falls. Anyone who has seen those Falls or their picture knows that is a huge height and goods had to be portaged around the Falls in order to continue up the lakes on their way to settlers’ destinations.

  6. How to bleed a dead cow. Well, I grew up on a farm so some of this I kind of knew but I still had to research just to make sure I had the facts right about the kill, the hanging of the carcass and the slicing of the neck vein in order to let the blood run out. In “olden days”, that’s where they got the blood for blood pudding and certain sausages. Doesn’t sound that appetizing to today’s readers! Lucy has to do this herself in the first book of the Loyalist Trilogy.

  7. Uniforms for Butler’s Rangers, British soldiers, and Patriots who later became Americans. Believe me this is a huge subject with uniforms ranging from non-existent to very specific for each subsection in fighting units. The uniforms indicate far more than just the country the soldiers are fighting for. The Butler’s Rangers in my first book started out wearing their own clothes but eventually had a green coat and tan trousers. Here’s a sample of the variations.

  8. Muskets and various cannons. There is no end of information on all of the weapons of the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Fascinating read when you consider these soldiers had to master intricate steps in all kinds weather and fighting conditions. I love the bit about the musket firing soldier ripping off the end of the paper tube holding the powder with his teeth, pouring in the powder, ramming it home with the ramrod, attaching the ramrod to the barrel again and finally firing. In the video no one is firing at those demonstrating. Makes a difference to how calm they might be, wouldn’t you say?

  9. Redans and redoubts. Redoubt is the most common word and redoubts represent a fortification where soldiers were somewhat protected from approaching enemies. This is described here. I used this research in the second book of my trilogy, The Loyalist’s Luck.

  10. Cicadas and crickets. Believe me there is a difference in the chirping times between these two but in the eight years since I sourced it out for my first book, I’ve forgotten, and I don’t have the time to do the research again. I did use the correct term in that book. There’s nothing to say that once finding the proper research and using it, you’ll remember it!

No matter what kind of book you’re writing the research will catch or destroy the reader’s interest. Make sure it’s well done.

The Loyalist’s Wife, The Loyalist’s Luck, The Loyalist Legacy

by Elaine Cougler

Available at Amazon.com and many other places.

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