Silver Hands - The World on my Doorstep

My historical fantasy novel Silver Hands is now on sale!  To celebrate, I'll be doing a couple of blogs about researching the historical background to the story, starting with this one about research I carried out locally.

Amazingly, you often don't have to go far to find a whole wealth of knowledge and inspiration when it comes to history, even with a story like Silver Hands, which ranges in geographical scope from the English coast to a Japanese castle town.  There are three museums local to my native Yorkshire that get a special mention from me in the "acknowledgements" section of the book for being particularly helpful.

                                            The Bay Hotel, Robin Hood's Bay

The first is the Captain Cook Memorial Museum at Whitby.  Whitby and its neighbour, Robin Hood's Bay, were extremely useful to me in researching the parts of the story set in Margaret's home town of Hollyport.  And those who know Whitby well may recognise certain aspects of it reflected in the book.  Even the famous Magpie cafe features as an 18th-century coffee house.

                                           Street outside the Captain Cook Museum

The museum itself not only features as Margaret's home; it was also very informative about maritime life in general - on land and at sea.  (I love the little model of the entire crew of the Endeavour!)  I went there twice while researching Silver Hands.

                                                                   Whitby harbour

Even closer to home (for me) is the Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds.  This was where I did my first ever "proper" research: spending time in the archives reading 17th- and 18th-century medical textbooks.  Namely, Dr Laurence Heister's " A General System of Surgery in Three Parts" (1748), and John Woodhall's "The Surgions Mate.  Published chiefly for the benefit of young Sea-surgions, imployed in the East-India Companies affaires" (1617).  The former describes all sorts of medical operations, from treating tumours and ulcers (includings chilblains and cancers) to "cleaning black and foul teeth", inoculation against smallpox and "pucture with a needle after the manner of the Japanese".  The latter describes the surgeon's sea-chest and its contents in detail (from knives to weighing scales, cupping glasses, a cathetor, and white and grey paper; along with medicine from laudanum to cinnamon water to "oil of scorpions").

                                           Oriental gallery, Royal Armouries, Leeds

Also in Leeds, the Royal Armouries has been extremely helpful.  Not only for the information on warfare at sea.  (The musketoon!)  But especially for its oriental gallery, and the Oriental Weekend they put on in January 2010.  Before I was able to go to Japan myself (more of that in the next blog!) this was an invaluable help.  I was able to handle artefacts, watch martial arts displays and see a samurai being armed piece by piece.  Actually, I go to the Royal Armouries a lot, and anyone else who does may recognise Taro's horse armour in Silver Hands as a piece on permanent display there.

Next time, I'll take you on a whirlwind tour of Edo Period Japan.  In the meantime, if you crave more, read my guest blog on Georgian Gentleman about the East India Companies.


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