Top 5 Ways Researching Primary Sources is so Effective by Rina Z. Neiman
When writing historical fiction, details of the time and place are crucial to the believability of your story. Here are 5 ways I researched my historical novel, Born Under Fire, which takes place from 1934-1949 under the British Mandate of Palestine.
1. Primary sources & interviews: When I began researching my mother’s story I was able to make a trip to Israel and conduct several in-person interviews with her friends and relative. These were invaluable to verify facts and get a feel for how events transpired. Walking the streets where scenes in the book occur was a way to soak in the smells, sights and sounds of a place.
I found several firsthand accounts from this time period by wonderful writers including Reporting from Palestine by Barbara Board, the first female foreign correspondent in the Middle East for the UK’s Daily Mirror. If I wanted to know about the experience of British troops stationed in Palestine, I looked for web sites with first person accounts and photos of veterans from that era.
2. Academic books and journals: I used my library’s inter-branch loan system, as academic books can also be prohibitively expensive. Reading these books gave me a better understanding of the forces that led creation of the Sabra generation (The Sabra: The Creation of the New Jew), fashion and styles of the time (The Coat of Many Colors: Dress Culture in the Young State of Israel), and history of the region and the city of Tel Avi (Young Tel Aviv: The Tale of Two Cities)
3. Movies – I watched movies from that era to get a sense of what it was like at the time. How did a place look vs. today? What slang was used? Period films also give a sense of the social mores of the time.
I watched a lot of documentaries, because there is nothing better that hearing about an eve than from the people that were there.
4. Newsreels and vintage films – The internet is a treasure trove for an endless supply of early newsreels and film clips. Director Steven Spielberg’s The Spielberg Collection is an invaluable source for Jewish themed films and newsreels. Newsreels with narration give a sense of what public perception was about a particular even of the day.
5. Newspapers from the time – Reading firsthand reports of an event gives you the facts, then you decide how your characters will react. There was websites where you can search newspaper archives depending on your area of interest, and your local library has loads of resources that you can use.
One final note: When I am deep into writing a scene, I stop my research. It’s easy to go down the research rabbit hole when you’re trying to find the perfect outfit, place or food for a scene or character. When I want to get some writing done, I head to a cafe or the library and do not turn on my WIFI. If the action in the scene can continue without the specific brand name of radio they listened to in 1947, I will move on with a note to research “1947 radios England” later.
For a full list of resources and links I used for my novel, see Https://www.bornunderfire.com/links
Rina Z. Neiman recently published her first book, Born Under Fire, an historical novel based on her mother who was born in Tel Aviv in 1928. As she comes of age the State of Israel is born. #bornunderfirethebook Amazon Website