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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Can’t Take a Research Trip? No Problem

Carrie Turansky is the award-winning author of eleven inspirational romance novels and novellas. Her latest are The Governess of Highland Hall, Snowflake Sweethearts, A Man To Trust, and Surrendered Hearts. Carrie lives in New Jersey with her husband Scott who is a pastor, speaker, and the author of several parenting books. When she is not writing she likes to travel with Scott on ministry trips and to visit their kids and grandkids, work in her flower gardens, and cook healthy meals for family and friends. Carrie loves to connect via her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Can’t Take a Research Trip . . . No Problem

Traveling to your novel’s location is the ideal way to absorb the atmosphere and see the setting as you prepare to write your novel. But what’s an author to do when a research trip isn’t possible? Here are few ideas that have helped me with my research.

Discover the Wonders of Google Image Search

When I was researching The Governess of Highland Hall I was blessed to be able to travel to England. We rented a car and toured the Oxford area, The Costwolds, and the Peak District. I saw some beautiful historic homes and gardens, spent a day at a delightful country fair, and visited lots of quaint villages and farms.

We enjoyed our trip tremendously, but when I came home I still didn’t have an exact location for my story. I wanted to find an estate that had a Downton Abbey kind of feeling, but was unique. I continued my search online using Google and Google Image Search looking for English Country Estates. That is how I discovered Tyntesfield, an amazing Victorian Gothic Revival house and estate near Wraxall, North Somerset, England.

This beautiful estate was purchased by the British National Trust a few years ago, and is now open to the public. Many tourists and professional photographers have visited and posted their photos online. Typing Tyntesfield into the Google Image search box turned up hundreds of photos of the interior and exterior. These were just what I needed to help me visualize the house and grounds for my series.

At one point in my story, the heroine visited The London Royal Opera House, and I wanted to describe that accurately in my story. I typed it in the Google Image Search box, and pages of photos popped up. After looking through those I could easily describe the stage, elaborate ceiling, and box seats almost as well as if I had been there.

Watch Movies and Documentaries

When I did a Google search for information about Tyntesfield, I discovered a documentary had been filmed there. What a gold mine! The narrator took viewers on a tour, explained the history of the house, and showed many of the unique features I might not have seen even if I had visited there.

Movies and documentaries are a great way to learn more about the setting and time period of your novel. Many of these are available online, so do a Google search and also search on YouTube and Netflix.

When I was researching my current series, I looked for movies set in the Edwardian era and watched Anne of Green Gables, Mr. Selfridge, Downton Abbey, Titanic, Berkley Square, Manor House, and documentaries about Highclere Castle/Downton Abbey and other English manor houses. Viewing those films gave me great inspiration and practical information I could use in my series. Your local library is another place to look for films and documentaries related to your setting or time period.

Join Pinterest and Start Pinning

Pinterest is a wonderful source for images and information, and it’s a great place to pin and save what you find online so you can access it later and share it with your readers. I created boards for England, Tyntesfield, Downton Abbey, Life in the Early 1900’s, Edwardian jewelry, Edwardian fashions, Edwardian Brides, and boards for each of my books. Pinterest also has a search feature that comes in handy. I needed information about young women being presented at court, so I typed that in and found several photos.

Some of those images took me back to websites with information about how the girls prepared, how they dressed, the order of events, and even how to curtsy. I saved those images on one of my boards and referred back to it when I wrote that scene. Here’s a link to my Pinterest boards for some more ideas on how to use it for research.

Traveling to the location where your novel is set is a great experience, but when that’s not possible we are blessed to live in an age when tons of information is available online. So I hope you’ll try some of these tools as you delve into the research for your next novel!

The Governess of Highland Hall

Missionary Julia Foster loves working alongside her parents, ministering and caring for young girls in India. But when the family must return to England due to illness, she readily accepts the burden for her parents’ financial support. Taking on a job at Highland Hall as governess, she quickly finds that teaching her four privileged, ill-mannered charges at a grand estate is more challenging than expected, and she isn’t sure what to make of the preoccupied master, Sir William Ramsey.

Widowed and left to care for his town young children and his deceased cousin’s two teenage girls, William is consumed with saving the estate from financial ruin The last thing he needs is the distraction of a kindhearted-yet-determined governess who seems to be quietly transforming his household with her persuasive personality, vibrant prayer life, and strong faith.

While both are tending past wounds and guarding fragile secrets, Julia and William are determined to do what it takes to save their families—common ground that proves fertile for unexpected feelings. But will William choose Julia’s steadfast heart over the wealth and power he needs to secure Highland Hall’s future?

“Everything about this book breathes upstairs-downstairs, and I was swept away into the world of Highland Hall—the language, the customs, the clothes, the drama, the romance, oh, the romance! Absolutely charming. . .” ~ Susan May Warren, RITA and Christy Award winner and best-selling novelist of Duchess.


  1. One of my main characters is from New Zealand, and my husband has already said he has no idea when/if we'll ever be able to travel there (much to my deep disappointment). So I spend a lot of time on Flickr snagging photos of the area I'm most interested in. I also LOVE Google Maps Street View ... you can literally drive down the streets of the places you're interested in (well, in many cases). For cultural research in modern times, local online newpapers are great (hello New Zealand Herald!). So, while it is still my ultimate dream to go to New Zealand someday, for now I'm able to richly fill out my Kiwi MC's cultural identity and all the info about the town he came from (fictional, but based loosely on a real town), the places he loved to hang out, etc. Gotta love the Internet!

  2. Hi Stacy, Google Street Maps is a great idea! I've used that a couple times, but not for writing yet. I will have to try that out. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Great ideas, Carrie. I watched a Netflix documentary on 1924 Olympic medalist Eric Liddell and it inspired my current hero. I will use that tip again.

  4. Great tips! I'm writing historical fiction so I'd love to travel back 200 years... obviously not possible! I'd also like to visit all the places my heroine did (my story is based on a real person) but she was very widely traveled and trying to retrace her routes (even today, with cars and planes) would take me a lot of time and money! So I'm relying on stuff like this. Great tips! Thanks. :)

  5. Hi Bonnie, thanks for stopping by! Two hundred years is a big jump back in time. Glad you've found some good ways to research for your novel.

  6. Hi Zoe, documentaries are great for research! I've always admired Eric Liddell since I saw Chariots of Fire. I'm sure the documentary was even more helpful.


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