Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Underground On-Site Research: Problems, Solutions, and Thanks

One of the hardest parts of writing historical fiction is getting a sense of what things looked like.  Being blind, I either have to get permission to handle objects (which is sometimes possible), or I have to rely on others’ descriptions of them.  Not surprisingly, smaller objects in common use throughout history are relatively easy to describe or recreate from paper or modelling clay.  Historical architecture is harder to get right. 

Picture your favourite building.  Now imagine what you would think it looked like if you could only “see” as much of the structure as your hands could reach.  Try finding a detailed print description of the structure online—remember, photos aren’t accessible to people with vision impairments.  How would you describe the building to someone who couldn’t see? 

Jennifer, my good friend and fantastic research assistant, has gotten very good at helping me figure out what old buildings looked like, using everything from words to make-shift models constructed of paper napkins, cardboard boxes, and other random materials.

.  This weekend, Jenn and I visited Kingston, where Underground is set.  We explored the downtown area and the parts of Queen’s University that are relevant to Underground. 

It turns out that Sherwood’s mad dash to class in chapter two would have him entering through the front door—not the back door—of what was then the “New Medical Building” (constructed in 1858 to get the Faculty of Medicine and the “vapours” from their dissections out of Summer Hill, the main university building). This mistake has been fixed on the master copy of Underground and will appear in the final version on the website.  

For those who are interested, the New Medical Building was built behind Summer Hill so the university did not have to spend extra on ornamental architecture.  Now the “New Medical Building” forms part of the Medical Quadrangle.  Thanks to Jenn for helping me figure out what this area looked like in 1864!

The fruits of our downtown investigations will appear in chapter six, which is partially written, and which should be posted before I return to law school in September. 

Check back soon for the next instalment of Underground, or sign up for my free email notifications so you’ll know the very day the instalments are posted!

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