I generally don’t do a whole lot of indepth research while I’m ploughing through the first draft of a novel, especially if it’s November and I’m trying rack up 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo. But with a historical novel, there are times when you just can’t move forward without going backward a little. This weekend I was working on the section of the novel that takes place during the First World War, and I had to do a little light research — just brushing the edges of some primary sources — to clarify a few facts and get my head in the right space. (More detailed research will come with later revisions).
To get into the general WWI home-front mood, I reread Rilla of Ingleside, a book I must have read twenty or thirty times when growing up (and I cried as much as ever, or possibly more, especially at Little Dog Monday). Then to check some facts, I read notes from some Newfoundland newspapers during 1914-1918. I found myself laughing at the congruence of the two, because Rilla of Ingleside, as those who’ve read it may recall, starts with Susan reading the newspaper and commenting aloud on the “Notes from Glen St. Mary” — setting up an ironic contrast between the gossipy, domestic news that everyone in that small PEI town is focused on in the summer of 1914, and the huge world events which will soon come to dominate their lives. Sure enough, I found that Montgomery’s “Notes from Glen St. Mary” were no satire, but typical of the kind of “social notes” that were printed as small town news in the first part of the 20th century.
My absolute favourite, and my best laugh-out-loud moment of the day, came with this note printed in the Bay Roberts news in the summer of 1916:
“Mrs. J. BARRETT of Vancouver, who arrived here sometime ago is not altogether on a pleasure trip, but was advised by her doctor to leave Vancouver as the climate there did not agree with her. Mrs. Barrett has gained considerable in weight during the short time she has been here. She is at present the guest of her sister, Mrs. Ben Morgan, Coley’s Point.”
Wouldn’t you just love to go on a visit to your relatives and have the local newspaper comment on the fact that you had “gained considerable in weight” during your vacation??? I realize that since Mrs. Barrett was encouraged to leave Vancouver for the good of her health, the fact that she had gained weight was probably seen as a good thing, but still … seems a little invasive, doesn’t it?