Layout of a Palace

People often ask me how I do my research for my books. Any genre, even those seemingly not requiring much research, like romance, do need the author to carry out some research. In romance, research could be about places. With thrillers, it could be about places, government organisations and their structure, weaponry and a host of other things.

So what does research mean for writers of historical fiction?

Let me illustrate with how I did it for The Battle of Vathapi series. The first stop for most writers of historical fiction are books on history. Authentic books on history. For The Battle of Vathapi, I started off with the History of South India by K. A. Neelakanta Sastri., the doyen of South Indian history and historical research. Since most of the action is set in South India, this seemed like a reasonable starting point. However, the action also moves up north, to Ujjain. I bought the entire 11 volume set titled The History and Culture of the Indian People by R. C. Majumdar. This set is a must have for all lovers of Indian history and who would like to use it as a reference manual.

I also looked at the Mahavamsa, the chronicles that contain the history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Quite a bit of action in The Battle of Vathapi trilogy is set in Sri Lanka and it was important to get the names and time periods of the various kings right.

The biggest advantage an author has, in this day and age, is the internet. And search engines. There is so much easy information available on the web. Add to that the presence of software like Google Maps which allows one to easily look at geographical contours and features and calculate distances between places. It makes the job of modern authors so much easier than what say, Mr. Kalki would have had to do when he was writing the Ponniyin Selvan and other books in the 50s.

So what are the kinds things that historical fiction authors look for, when they carry out research? The main aspects that I look for, are the following:

These and more are what I look for when I research a time period, prior to starting out on my story.

Finally, there is no better research than visiting the places that one is writing about. For The Battle of Vathapi, I visited most of the places that appear. Sigiriya, Pollonoruwa (which I used as a substitute for Anuradhapura), Vathapi, Mahabalipuram, Aihole, Pattadakkal. It is important to visit places since it gives an author the lay of the land.

As you can see, there is a method to the madness you read in a historical fiction novel. Hopefully, I have given you a glimpse of the hard work that goes into writing the books that I write.

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