Category Archives: Research

The Novel Approach to Research ~ Do you know what car this is?

What inspires you to write a novel?

All it took for me was an email and a photo and I was hooked.

Haynes Park Army Camp 1915

Haynes Park Army Camp 1915

Here’s the photo:

And here’s the gist of the email:

‘Did you know that a young Jersey girl was murdered at Haynes Park, near to where you live, back in 1919? The murder was never solved.’

The inspiration to write my first murder mysteryMurder, Now and Then’ was born!

Inspired to delve deeper I discovered this photo at the Bedford archives. The young ladies quickly became my characters, as did the owner and driver of the car – but what was the car?

I needed a car which looked like the above and was manufactured before World War One. Searching on the internet and asking several people for their opinion we decided to call it an ‘Austin 7hp.’ 

Imagine my surprise and delight to receive a comment on Facebook yesterday morning from a friend @PaulFellows who informed me that the car was really a Morris Oxford or Morris Cowley.

Many apologies for car lovers for this error in my novel. Not that you would know of course since there are no pictures in ‘Murder, Now and Then’ Morris;-)


Filed under Murder Now and Then, Research

Murder Mystery Virtual Tour of Bedfordshire no4 ~ The Shuttleworth Collection, Biggleswade

MNATTour4ShuttleworthAs we explore Bedfordshire together as part of my murder mystery virtual tour we will pause a while at The Shuttleworth Collection, a place that influenced my second novel ‘Ancasta – Guide me Swiftly Home’ and also features in my third novel ‘Murder, now and then.’ The museum is a comprehensive collection of aircraft including a few of the oldest airworthy crafts of their type. My interest has always been to imagine the places where these planes were built and the people who crafted them, as well as the live of those who originally flew them.

Diana with the Avro504K

Diana with the Avro504K

For example, on one visit an engineer pointed out the unique stitching on the wings of the Edwardian aircraft, often carried out by women during WW1.

I have spent many happy hours researching at the Shuttleworth archives under the guidance of John and Jim and I am indebted to their support. Research for an author can be a lonely business, but it is wonderful when people take a genuine interest and give of their time to ensure that the facts gleaned and expanded upon in a novel are authentic.

Shuttleworth is unique in that almost all the aircraft on display are airworthy. There are also exaples of ‘work in progress’ which you can visit in Hanger 1 including the long awaited Spitfire and the De Havilland Comet DH88 which has flown for the first time again since restoration this year and an excellent site it was too.

Here is an account I wrote back in 2012 of an airshow I enjoyed when the Blackburn Monoplane gave her centenary flight from Shuttleworth:

“Last Sunday (7th October 2012) there was a buzz at the Shuttleworth Air Day. Attendance to the show was high, the mood buoyant and we milled around with anticipation as we waited for the display to start.  I did a double take when several pipers, resplendent in their kilts, walked towards us but no, we were still in the heart of Bedfordshire and the Bedford Pipers were to perform for us. The sun shone and folks smiled.

The focus of the day was a Fast Jet Reunion and those watching were certainly not disappointed as the Folland Red Gnats did acrobats in the sky (Hey, I know where they were probably made…. we saw one outside Follands in Hamble near Southampton!) There were others including the Vampire Trainer (Can anyone tell me why it’s called a Vampire?)  and the Hawker Hunter. (1955) As well as the Jets there was the Hawker Demon, 1933, and the Hawker Hind, 1934. (My elderly 103 yr old friend Norman worked at Hawkers back in the 30’s so I felt a connection)

Then we arrived at the part of the show which truly interested me, the World War One planes. I have read about Tommy Sopwith and what a character he was, and then there was the SE5a which features in my novel ‘Ancasta.’ The sun was sinking fast but it was a still evening and so we were filled with hope that the old Edwardians would be able to fly. Our wait was rewarded with the Bristol Boxkite, (although I believe this is a replica) also featured in my novel and the Avro Triplane. I never tire of watching these priceless machines take to the skies.

The Blackburn Monoplane 1912 to 2012

The Blackburn Monoplane 1912 to 2012

For me though, the climax of the day was watching the Blackburn Type D Monoplane, (Impressed… I copied this carefully from the programme) the oldest British plane which can still fly, take off on its 100th birthday. It first flew in December 1912 and Richard Shuttleworth found it in a barn of hay in 1937, before he bought it and had it restored. Thus, on Sunday The Shuttleworth Collection yet again treated us to a precious celebration of history come to life before our eyes!

As we were walking back through the remaining cars to go home I remarked on a lovely e type Jaguar.

‘That’s scary,’ my husband said. ‘You are recognising cars now.’

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Do you know there are three things you’ve taught me since we’ve been together?’

‘What are those?’ he asked, puffing up proudly in a way only men can.

‘Cars, aeroplanes and how to swear!’ I replied.

Nevertheless it was another memorable flying day at Shuttleworth and as the announcer exclaimed at one point over the loud speaker,

‘We have to thank the RSPB for this unscheduled part of the show,’ as a flock of ducks flew in V formation overhead! “

Shuttleworth plays only a small part in ‘Murder, now and then’ but the museum is certainly a gem in the heart of Bedfordshire and watching an airshow for me is akin to discovering an antique diamond!


Filed under Ancasta, Bedfordshire, Early Flight, Murder Now and Then, Research, The Shuttleworth Collection, Virtual Tour of Bedfordshire

Welcome to Historical Fiction Author ~ Tony Riches

2014Hello Tony. Thank you for appearing as a guest on my blog today. Can
you tell us a little about your latest book Warwick in no more than
twenty words?

Hi Diana – and thanks for inviting me. Subtitled The Man behind the Wars of the Roses, Warwick is about Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known as the ‘Kingmaker.’

Can you remember the inspired moment which led you to write Warwick or was it partWarwick of a journey of discovery?

I was watching the BBC series The White Queen, (based on Philippa Gregory’s books) and wondered why the richest man in England would risk everything to back the young Edward IV – then change sides to support Queen Margaret of Anjou, his sworn enemy. I guessed there was more to his story than the BBC suggested – and found no one had ever tackled Warwick’s life as a novel.
Historical fiction is a tricky market and a controversial one. I should know. There will always be historians out there who know far more than we do, though we try our best to ensure authenticity in our writing. Was it your intention to write a good read or to stick as close to historical ‘facts’ as possible?

I enjoyed the research for Warwick and was amazed at what I found out about his life. It can be difficult but I feel historical fiction authors should try their best to ensure that details are checked. It’s fine to ‘fill in the gaps’ but not to ignore well-documented facts. The truth, of course, is often stranger than fiction, so this needn’t be at the expense of a good read.

I agree with you there. It has been said to me that historical fiction is a way of reaching a wider public with key moments in history and may stir an interest in the reader delving into the subject in greater depth. What do you think?

Yes, feedback from readers supports this – it would be great if more people were inspired to look into the pre-Tudor history of England.

That’s true Tony – there are many novels inspired by the Roman period in English history and the 18th and 19th century, but little in between.  On reading Warwick I have been prompted to look into this particular history of St Albans, of which I was totally unaware, even though I grew up there.

You have also written a business management book and one for authors on building a social media platform. Would you say that you are most comfortable writing fiction or non fiction? (or both of course!)

I enjoy being a multi-genre author. My management book was my first US best-seller, based on my work in project management and my previous  novel, The Shell, is set in present day Mombasa.  I’m currently working on another fifteenth century historical fiction book (about Eleanor Cobham) and am planning a trilogy to follow on from Warwick.

Those sound exciting projects for us to look forward to.

Finally, since you are experienced in book marketing, what is the one most important piece of advice you would give an author when launching a novel in order to reach a wider public?

Plan ahead. Set aside time in advance to work with book bloggers and reviewers. I support book launches on my writing blog and am sometimes surprised that authors don’t even have the basic information ready, so you can make life much easier for yourself by having all the links, images, blurb and your bio to hand before the big day.

Is there anything else you would like to add ~ an anecdote maybe?

In an audacious bit of ‘forward planning’ I set up a Twitter account for @EleanorCobham  on the same day I drafted the first chapter of my WiP. Since then she has gained 1,800 followers – and from the comments I wonder how many think she is a real person…

Wow – that’s something to think about. I wonder if it would work with an imaginary character too?

Well Tony, many thanks again for taking the time to appear on my blog and I wish you well. Do let us know when your next project comes to fruition.


Tony Riches is a full time writer and lives with his wife in Pembrokeshire, one of the most unspoilt areas of the UK. His first novel, Queen Sacrifice was written after looking into the early history of Wales and seeing the parallels to a game of chess, with kings and queens, bishops and castles – and the people becoming pawns in their civil wars. When not writing Tony enjoys sea and river kayaking. He also enjoys hiking and plans to complete the full 186 miles of the Pembrokeshire Coast path which passes fifty-eight beautiful beaches and fourteen harbours. You can find him on Twitter @tonyriches and his new Facebook Author Page



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