Last week, after the Historical Novel Society Conference, I stayed over in London for a couple of days to research at the British Library. There in the Newsroom, I studied microfilm of The Illustrated London News, all the copies for the year 1911. I did not know what to expect. I had ordered the publication on the say-so of some other source. The ILN turned out to be so fascinating that I wished I could subscribe and have them send me those old issues once a week to read at my leisure at home. For the most part magazines don't much interest me. But hundred year old news, for me, is another matter entirely.
Founded in 1842, ILN--the world's first illustrated weekly news magazine--continued in publication every week until 1971, after which it came out occasionally until it stopped publication in 2003. Early on, the pictures were produced from wood engravings. By 1911, the year when my African series begins, most of the pictures were photographs. As I scanned through the pages, it was easy for me to pick out what I wanted to look at closely. And, thanks to the British Library's technology, I could easily email myself a PDF of any page or clipping of any article. I sent myself scores.
Some of them were directly relevant to the history of British East Africa:
Others were about other parts of Africa, be seemed worth closer scrutiny:
Some, mostly ads, gave me a peephole into everyday life in the time of my characters:
Some, like the cars and the airplanes, were interesting because they are appearing in Africa for the first time, and I want to see what they looked like:
One article might inspire a scene in some future story. It's about the sorts of accidents that occurred once automobiles joined horse and buggy traffic on the roadways:
Some I had to have, just because the images were so arresting:
Others because they dealt with pieces of history outside the purview of my stories, but that fascinate me, like ancient Egypt:
And the disastrous Shirtwaist Factory Fire, that took place only a few blocks from where I now live. (Stay tuned for a blog one day soon about that.)
Writing this weekly blog has many and varied advantages for me both as a person and an author. Often, when I research for the blog, I come across valuable information for the books themselves. This time that happened in spades. I wanted to find out a bit of background about The ILN, but one of the sources contained a link that brought me to site that archives all sorts of publications during World War I. You KNOW I am going to mine those when WWI becomes the background of the lives of Justin and Vera Tolliver and Kwai Libazo. It sure looks to me as if I have stumbled on another treasure trove.