Researching the 1950s
I did a reading this week, and a person in the audience asked me how to research a historical novel.
I'm sure my way is not the only way, but I started with big brush history - events, trends, rationing, etc. This was particularly important to me as I grew up in America, so I had very little modern British history in my education.
Robert Opie's 1950s Scrapbook was quite useful to get an initial flavour of the products of the decade. One tidbit that really struck me (and made it into the first chapter) was that liquid shampoos came onto the market in the spring of 1952. I then moved on to in depth research into period archaeology, Mull, London, Vassar and quite a lot into steam trains.
I delayed looking specifically at fashion very deliberately. I feared spending way too much time looking at period clothing rather than writing! So I went to the British Library after I had an entire first draft and poured over fashion magazines for spring 1952. I loved looking at Harper's Bazaar and Vogue issues, the very ones that Max would have read, seeing the ads she would have seen. It felt almost like shopping – I needed a ball gown for this scene, a dinner dress for this one.