Hearts Through History Romance Writers

It’s All in the Details

by | July 8, 2009 | 2 comments

I’m in England today, in a small Devon village called Drewsteignton, so I’ve scheduled my blog to appear today. I hope it works, because I’m not near a computer and won’t be able to check. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

Okay it’s time for a quick pop quiz. What do you call a tool for cutting peat? What is St. Brigid’s Day, and when? And what’s the traditional color for an Irish bridal gown? (Hint: It’s not white.) And what’s the origin of the Irish Hunting Horse?

Not so long ago, I didn’t know the answers to any of these questions, but I needed this information – and lots more – in order to write my first novel, In Sunshine or in Shadow, which is set in post-Famine Ireland. It all came down to researching details, details, and more details.

But that was just fine with me. As a former journalist, I’m used to fact-checking. I love researching, digging to find elusive facts, peeling back the layers to find just the right reference for each character. But what I also discovered was one of the most important things in writing historical romance: not only finding the information, but weaving it into the story so it doesn’t detract from the plot.

For instance, in In Sunshine or in Shadow, my hero, Rory O’Brien, is haunted by the ghosts and secrets of his past. In one particular scene with my heroine, Siobhán Desmond, I originally had pain slash through him “like a knife”. It was a good line. But it’s one that’s been used dozens, if not hundreds of times. It wasn’t unique enough. So I thought about how I could change the wording to make it unique to Rory as a character.

I decided to use an Irish reference. Since I had no idea what a peat-cutting tool was called, I Googled it and came up with a site that explained not only the traditional method of collecting turf in Ireland, but a description and pictures of the tools that were used.

In another scene, Rory and Siobhán are alone together and he’s explaining the fine art of shooting craps. It’s a scene filled with sexual tension, but it’s also a good description of the game — at least, I think it is — and it also explains much of Rory’s youth on the streets of New York. Again, I had to weave in details, but again, they had to be accurate. Back to Google, and this time I supplemented my research with a trip to the casino.

The origin of the Irish Hunter was another spot that required detailed research. The Irish Hunter is stronger, faster, and easier to ride. There are several good books on horses, as well as several Internet sites, but thankfully, I have a horse expert in the family to whom I can pose all sorts of “horse questions.” Thus was born Rory’s dream of breeding the finest strain of Irish Hunters in Ireland.

Cutting the Turf Everything you want to know about cutting the turf.

Irish Culture and Customs All sorts of information from Irish weddings, superstitions, recipes, and more!

Planning a visit to the casino? Stop by the craps table.

The Irish Hunter

Answers to quiz:

1) slane
2) Feb. 1. It’s the beginning of the spring planting season.
3) Blue
4) The Irish Hunter is the result of crossing good weight-carrying mares, the Irish Draft and the Cleveland Bay, with Thoroughbred stallions.


  1. Victoria Gray

    Great posting! I'm also discussing the importance of weaving fact into fiction and layering details at Romance University on Friday. It's such a challenge to include the details without overwhelming the story.

  2. Virginia

    I think sometimes you can have to many details but most of the time they fit right in.




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