Help from the British Library, by Kate Parker
I enjoy reading and writing British historical cozy mysteries. I grew up reading my mother’s Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, and Ngaio Marsh stories, and it shaped my outlook on books. To this day, great literature for me contains corpses and puzzling clues.
Despite a great deal of research for the Victorian Bookshop Mysteries, it wasn’t until I began the Deadly series, featuring an intrepid young sleuth who was a society reporter for a daily London newspaper, that I used London newspapers for a source of firsthand information.
And what a wealth of information I found. A few years ago, the British Library began to put all their old newspapers from all over Britain onto microfilm. While the project is ongoing, they have a vast collection of newspapers dating back to the seventeenth century available in the Newsroom on the second floor of the British Library building at St. Pancras on Euston Road in London. Many more can be ordered a day or two in advance to be read on the numerous microfilm readers in the Newsroom.
All that is needed is a British Library card, and even an American, if a published author, can get one. I went to the library and applied in person, jetlagged from being up the entire night before on the flight over. The process involves explaining to an employee in the ground floor office the reason you wish to use the British Library collection. Somehow I was coherent enough to receive my library card, good for three years. I’ve used it on my yearly trip and will have to apply for a new card the next time I’m in London. I imagine even if you are not published and American, if you have evidence of a need to use the library, you will be able to get a library card of some duration.
The staff is unfailingly helpful, since I have never been able to put spools of microfilm into the reader correctly. I’ve even had other patrons help me with the technical aspects. I’ve found British people to be very kind.
If you are doing research on England, with an emphasis on the London area, in the twentieth century, microfilm covers the entire century of issues for the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, the Evening Standard, the Financial Times, the Guardian, and the Times. What a wealth of information. Since my heroine covers society news, I’ve never looked at the Financial Times, but the Daily Mirror, the Daily Mail, and the Evening Standard have all been helpful for the period of time I’ve searched, 1937 and 1938. Check on line or in person for an up-to-date list of the newspapers, and now radio and TV broadcasts, available.
I found the idea for the French assassin, a character in Deadly Fashion, in one of the 1938 newspapers. The original was a German spymaster. No one knew her real name or what she looked like, and she was able to come and go from England without getting caught. I thought the article on her gave me great raw material for a character, and I’m sure this wasn’t the first or last time.
There are some stringent regulations for using the British Library. Books, coats, purses, backpacks, etc. cannot be taken into the reading rooms. There is a room full of good sized lockers on the lower ground floor where things forbidden in the reading rooms can be stored. It costs a one pound coin which is returned when you empty the locker, and lockers must be emptied by the end of the day. Pens are not allowed. I took notes with mechanical pencils. They have free clear plastic bags to carry things to the reading rooms, such as pencils, paper, wallet, and the key to the locker. When I was there, laptop computers were not allowed because of fears of stealing and plagiarizing works. That may have changed now. Check before arrival.
If this sounds like something that would be useful for your research, I highly recommend the British Library. Check http://www.bl.uk
Kate Parker is the author of the Victorian Bookshop Mysteries and the Deadly Series, including Deadly Fashion, out January 11, 2018.
She can be found at
Deadly Fashion (The Deadly Series)
3rd in Series
Cozy Historical Mystery
JDP Press (December 8, 2017)
Why would a man, knowing his life was in danger, turn his back on his killer? In pre-war London, Olivia Denis wins a plum assignment from her newspaper when she meets the glamorous French fashion designer, Mimi Mareau. Mimi has it all, wealth, talent, acclaim, and a British duke for a lover. But on her first visit to Mimi’s new Mayfair house of haute couture, Olivia finds something else – the body of an unknown man. Mimi and her three French assistants say they don’t know the man, but is that true? As Olivia spends time around the salon, she learns at least one of the women knew the dead man and four women are lying. A British agent in possession of a terrible secret, an attempt on the life of a British leader, a fashion house in the middle of it all, and war marches closer. Can Olivia stop a murderer before he or she can strike again or shatter the fragile peace?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kate Parker has wanted to travel to 1930s England since she read her mother’s Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers mysteries when she was a schoolgirl. After many years of studying science, she decided a time travel machine was out of the question so she found herself limited to reading about the period and visiting historic sites. Her love of this fascinating and challenging period led her to the research from which the Deadly series grew. Eventually she found it necessary to spend several days in the British Library reading old newspapers, which meant another trip to England. Near Christmas. A sacrifice she’d gladly make every year.
Huge thanks to Ms. Parker for visiting and sharing her knowledge!
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