Guest Author: Jessica Cale’s Beginners Guide to Researching Your Historical Romance

Jessica Cale

A Beginner’s Guide to Researching Your Historical Romance

Historical Romance is a great sub-genre to read and write. With dukes, highwaymen, corsets, and balls, what’s not to like? Writing in an unfamiliar time period can be daunting at first, but it doesn’t need to be. Whether you’re new to the genre or just thinking of giving it a try, here are a few tips to get you started on your way to writing your best historical:

Do your homework. Sure, you can write a historical romance knowing nothing more about the period than how the underwear was structured, but if you want to write a good one, you’ll need to do your homework. It is impossible to do too much. Read everything you can about the period you’re writing, especially the details of everyday life. How did they do their laundry, what did they use to wash their hair, what did they have for breakfast? When I read historicals, I like to disappear into the period, and it’s little details like these that make a book feel real.

Don’t rely on other novels written about the period. If you’ve read enough novels set in a particular period, it’s easy to feel like you really know it, but be careful. You can use certain points of reference as a jumping off point for your research (example: balls at Almack’s), but be sure to check everything over yourself. You can use your research to put a new spin on old subjects, and people always enjoy learning new things about their favorite period. Unfortunately, you can’t rely on the research of other authors. Of course, everyone wants to write the best book possible, but everyone makes mistakes. For example, I’ve read a few things set in the late Victorian period where characters are legitimately afraid of being hanged at Tyburn, but at that point, no one had been hanged there in more than a hundred years. (Okay, so this is a subject that’s close to my heart, but reading this was like nails on a chalkboard. Don’t do that to your readers.)

Make a timeline. Whether your characters have anything to do with court or politics, you should be aware of all of the major events that happened before and during your period. Your characters do not exist in a vacuum, and these things might have influenced their lives. Check if there were any significant news items if you can (crimes, storms, fires, earthquakes, etc), to add color, aid your plot, or just to provide interesting dinner conversation.

Keep your dialogue sounding natural. Throwing in the occasional ‘twas or a ‘twould is more likely to feel awkward than authentic if they’re only used sparingly, especially if it’s in the character’s thoughts. Historical words are great for adding color, but be sure to use them consistently throughout the book. It’s fine to have more modern-sounding dialogue if that’s what you decide to do, but be careful to avoid any glaringly anachronistic words or phrases, like calling something “cool” anytime before the end of the twentieth century. Read things that were written during the period and writing accurate dialogue will begin to come naturally.

Fact check, fact check, fact check. Once you’ve written your first draft, re-check everything. Question everything you think you know about the period. What year was that neighborhood built? Was that street/park/building called something else? What time does the sun rise and set on that date in that part of the world? How long does it really take to travel from Point A to Point B? This might sound obvious, but it’s better to check everything over thoroughly before your novel gets published, because no matter how good the story is, someone’s going to notice. You might be surprised with what you find. In my first book, Tyburn, I had to change the addresses of two of the main characters because I found out that the neighborhood I had them living in wasn’t built until twenty years after the book was set!

Don’t be put off by the amount of work that can go into writing historicals. Once you do your research for the first one, any others you write in that period will be much easier as you build on the world you have already created. Of course, it’s your book and you can do anything you’d like to with it (time-travelling steampunk zombies? Okay!), but a little accuracy goes a long way. Bring your time period to life for your readers, and they’ll thank you for it.

Happy Writing!

Jessica Cale

Virtues Lady

Virtue’s Lady
Author: Jessica Cale
Genre: Historical Romance (Restoration/Enlightenment)
Publisher: Liquid Silver
Release Date: April 13th


From toiling for pennies to bare-knuckle boxing, a lady is prepared for every eventuality.


Lady Jane Ramsey is young, beautiful, and ruined.

After being rescued from her kidnapping by a handsome highwayman, she returns home only to find her marriage prospects drastically reduced. Her father expects her to marry the repulsive Lord Lewes, but Jane has other plans. All she can think about is her highwayman, and she is determined to find him again.

Mark Virtue is trying to go straight. After years of robbing coaches and surviving on his wits, he knows it’s time to hang up his pistol and become the carpenter he was trained to be. He busies himself with finding work for his neighbors and improving his corner of Southwark as he tries to forget the girl who haunts his dreams. As a carpenter struggling to stay in work in the aftermath of The Fire, he knows Jane is unfathomably far beyond his reach, and there’s no use wishing for the impossible.

When Jane turns up in Southwark, Mark is furious. She has no way of understanding just how much danger she has put them in by running away. In spite of his growing feelings for her, he knows that Southwark is no place for a lady. Jane must set aside her lessons to learn a new set of rules if she is to make a life for herself in the crime-ridden slum. She will fight for her freedom and her life if that’s what it takes to prove to Mark—and to herself—that there’s more to her than meets the eye.

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Other Books in This Series

Tyburn (The Southwark Saga, Book 1): Notorious harlot Sally Green fights for survival in Restoration London. When a brutal attack throws them together, Sally is torn between the tutor who saves her and the highwayman who keeps her up at night; between new love and an old need for revenge. Winner of the Southern Magic Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence 2015.

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Author Bio

Jessica Cale is a historical romance author and journalist based in North Carolina. Originally from Minnesota, she lived in Wales for several years where she earned a BA in History and an MFA in Creative Writing while climbing castles and photographing mines for history magazines. She kidnapped (“married”) her very own British prince (close enough) and is enjoying her happily ever after with him in a place where no one understands his accent. You can visit her at

Social Media Links

Twitter: @JessicaCale
Amazon Author Page:
Goodreads Author Page:


The girl was beautiful.

She had him pinned to the bed. He was helpless beneath her hands. Her long fingers spanned his chest, tracing the line where the muscle dipped and gave way to shoulder. A hint of a smile played on her lips, more than just a little bit wicked. Kiss-crushed and sherry red, they were the sweetest thing he’d ever tasted.

“Like this?” She shifted back onto his hip bones.

She hovered above him like a conquering angel, all of the fearsome beauty of heaven in her laughing eyes, as grey and deadly as any steel. He could see the evidence of her ferocity in the iron poker that still projected from the door behind her head, a temptation as much as a warning.

“Getting there.” He grinned.

His hands rested on the curve of her waist, his rough, tanned skin a stark contrast to her smooth flesh, luminous and pale as the moon.

“More,” she moaned, rocking against him.

The bed slammed noisily against the wall, an insistent rapping that increased in frequency, strangely unconnected to the movements of her hips.

Somewhere in the distance, the sound of a saw.

Mark became aware of the bedclothes tangled around his legs. The stench of the river replaced the scent of her skin. She flickered as she bent over him with a sly smile, her hair falling around him like a curtain of copper silk. He was moments away from a bone-shattering orgasm. Just a little bit longer. She increased her pace, her breath quickening as she neared her peak. Her lips hovered above his, close enough to kiss, but somehow out of reach.

Her hips flickered under his hands and he heard the warble of a flock of geese.

“Jane,” he gasped, reaching out to grasp her as she disappeared, and finding only bed linen beneath his hand.

10 thoughts on “Guest Author: Jessica Cale’s Beginners Guide to Researching Your Historical Romance

  1. So true Jessica. You can read all the Heyers in the world but you should still check facts. I found out that a Peer cannot go to debtor’s prison and yet I have read that so many times in books. So a historical error can be carried on too.


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