Author Guest Post + GIVEAWAY: The Lady's Slipper by Deborah Swift

I am so pleased to bring you a guest post written by Deborah Swift, author of The Lady's Slipper, who is here today to talk about a topic close to my heart, researching historical fiction.  The Lady's Slipper was just released on November 23rd and is set during the reign of one of my favorite monarchs, King Charles II.

Passages to the Past has been sent a copy of The Lady's Slipper to give away to one lucky winner (US/Canada ONLY), so make sure to enter at the end of this post!

Take it away Deborah...

Research and Historical Fiction

Many people have asked me about how I do my research and how much time it takes to write a historical novel. So in this post I will take a little about my process, and also tell you about some of the books I found invaluable in my research for The Lady’s Slipper.

My approach was not to try to know everything, but to read some general books on the 17th Century to get a broad picture, and then to start to write the book, filling in the gaps in my knowledge later. I keep a large notebook which is full of questions, for example, “How much was a loaf of bread in 1660?” “In a small village would there have been a bakery, or did people bake at home?” “What sort of bread? Millet? Wheat? Rye?” The answer to the last question was that in Westmorland where the book is set bread was called “clapbread” and was a flat cake made of oats, and it would keep for nearly a month! They had special oak cupboards built into their cottages to keep it in over winter – frequently the answers are not what you expect but even more interesting.

So after getting the overview I write my story, but I am left with a bulging and quite daunting note book full of questions. I take a deep breath, start at the beginning again and find out the answers and facts and decide if they help or hinder the story. I think I enjoy the “detective” element of finding out the answers to obscure questions! I read a lot of non-fiction and I am eternally grateful to the “real” historians who supply me with the answers. Books such as The Weaker Vessel by Antonia Fraser which gives a record of women’s lives in the Civil War in their own voices, and Restoration London by Liza Picard which was indispensable for information about daily life. Another favourite was Birth, Marriage and Death by David Cressy, which was always on my desk.

When I began writing The Lady’s Slipper I had no idea that my characters were going to end up on a ship, and of course I knew nothing at all about sailing ships, not even modern ones. No matter how many books I had read on the 17th century beforehand, it was unlikely I would have found out what I needed to know about Dutch Flute sailing ships without doing some very specific research. So I forced myself to read Patrick O’Brian’s books which are all set at sea, and what he doesn’t know about tall ships would probably fit on a postage stamp. They are the sort of historical fiction I would never normally pick up, but they are excellent. I also found out by emailing The Maritime Museum that the cow was stabled “aft”, and that foodstuffs were often sealed in dried mud to keep them fresh on board.

Levens Hall
To write about people’s homes I spent time at a number of old houses including Levens Hall, which helped me to create Fisk Manor, the home of Geoffrey Fisk in the novel. There is nothing like walking down a 17th century staircase and feeling the polished wooden banisters and seeing the light pour in through mullioned windows.  At Swarthmoor Hall I sat and wrote a scene at a gnarled and polished oak table where George Fox the Quaker leader may have sat when he lived there with Margaret Fell. After such an immersion in the past it feels very strange then to get in my car and zoom away!

The botanical facts about the orchid I researched through interviewing members of the Cypripedium Committee, a sort of plant mafia set up to protect the Lady’s Slipper. They meet behind closed doors and the location of the last remaining plant in Britain is a closely guarded secret even today. The single-minded enthusiasm of these men, and their dedication to preserving the plant for future generations gave me confidence in my heroine, Alice Ibbetson’s obsession with it. But I also read novels such as The Orchid Thiefand Tulip Fever and, which treat similar themes. 

Being a costume designer I could not resist the Northampton Shoe Museum where there are many shoes on display. In The Lady’s Slipper Ella the maid is envious of her mistress’s slippers, and below you can see a pair from the museum that I used as reference whilst writing.

Often the research throws up new plotlines and then I will re-write scenes or chunks of the book to incorporate little-known or exciting research. I think to write historical fiction you have to enjoy this aspect of it because you are going to do an awful lot of it. When people ask me how long it takes to research the novel they are thinking in terms of a finite time, but actually I am researching all the time, my living room always has a pile of ten or twelve “current” books I am dipping into, not to mention photocopies and print-outs such as bits of the diaries of Pepys and George Fox and other helpful 17th century scribblers. Did I forget to mention the internet? The phone rings, and I half expect my husband to say, “Hang on, she’s googling.”

Thanks to Amy for hosting me, you can find out more on my website or my blog The Riddle of Writing

Fantastic post Deborah, thank you so much for taking the time to give us insight into the work that went on to research The Lady's Slipper!

SYNOPSIS:  1660. King Charles II has returned from exile, but memories of the English Civil War still rankle. There are old scores to settle, and religious differences threaten to overturn a fragile peace. When Alice Ibbetson discovers a rare orchid, the Lady’s Slipper, growing in a wood belonging to Richard Wheeler, she is captivated by its beauty— though Wheeler, a Quaker, is determined to keep the flower where God intended it to grow. Knowing that the orchid is the last of its kind, she steals the flower, little dreaming that her seemingly simple act will set off a chain of events that will lead to murder and exile, and change her life forever…


DEBORAH SWIFT, a set and costume designer for the BBC, lives in Windermere, England. The Lady’s Slipper, shortlisted for The Impress Novelists Prize in 2007, was inspired by her own discovery of the rare orchid during a summer walk.


- To enter, please leave a comment below and include your email address.
- Giveaway is open to US and Canada residents ONLY.
- For +1 additional entry each, please help spread the word by blogging, posting on sidebar, tweeting or posting on Facebook.  You can use the SHARE buttons below and please include the info in the comment section below.
- Giveaway ends on December 10th.




  1. I wanna visit that house! I'd also love to see her big book of questions!
    thx for the giveaway!

  2. Sounds like a good historical read.

    littleone AT shaw DOT ca

  3. Please enter me!



    +1 I tweeted!!/Mevurah/status/9435735673274368

  4. Oh my goodness! This was an excellent post (I really like the visuals, so thanks for that!) The book looks absolutely breathtaking and I cannot wait to read all about it!

    Thanks so much!

    apereiraorama @

  5. Thanks for the giveaway! I've been waiting to read this one!

  6. sounds like a very interesting read include me in.
    thank you

  7. Awesome giveaway and an even better blog! Have you read "Prisoners of the Palace?" It's one of the first historical fictions that I really truly enjoyed! You must look into it!

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. I'd love to win this! I have posted on Twitter and Facebook!

  10. This is a great post, thank you! I think doing the research is one of my own favourite elements of writing historical fiction, too.

  11. Thanks for the giveaway. It looks like a good book. I love historical fiction.

  12. I would love to read this book. My son is obsessed with history, and I find books all the time for him. Right now he is reading about the 17th century table, and what was aten at the time. I really enjoy it when authors take the time to do research. It shows in their books.

  13. Thanks for your very kind offer.

  14. I'd love to win this book!



  15. Interesting post. I'm pleased to hear about the Fraser book, The Weaker Vessel, and I loved the picture of the Levens House. Thanks for the giveaway, sounds like a great book.

  16. I love historical fiction. Count me in.

    clenna at aol dot com

  17. Thanks for this giveaway. I'd love to read the book.
    chilty1014 at gmail dot com

  18. Thanks for the giveaway. I want this book. I really want to read it. Please enter me in contest.

  19. This book looks so good! I entered to win it on goodreads but didn't get it. It is now on my wishlist. Great interview as well, I love the picture of the slippers.

  20. I loved this post -- her process of writing sounds so interesting--an oat cake that lasts over a month! I can't wait to read this book :)

  21. Fascinating post. I love to hear how authors research!

    And I've been eying this book for a while, so sign me up for this!


  22. This book has been on my TBR list since I first heard about it months ago. Please enter me.

    tmrtini at gmail dot com

  23. What a great interview...always find it interesting learning about how authors comes up wit h their book ideas and their research. The last interesting thing I learned about a Lady Slipper flower was when I was watching Teresa Pennington, a local color-pencil artist who incorporates these flowers in ALL of her work because it was her mums favorite flower. She does a lot of Biltmore art: I have these Chrismas cards. Just had to share. Fondly, Roberta

  24. I've just added this giveaway to my sidebar:

  25. I would love to win this book! I just finished a book about the later life of King Charles II and would love to know more about his earlier life as king.

    I just posted this on my twitter.


  26. Marvelous guest post -- esp as I do love to hear about how authors research. Ms Swift's comment "...find out the answers and facts and decide if they help or hinder the story" really caught me -- that's a very good frame when one is swimming in research!

    Thank you for the giveaway -- I tweeted!

    unabridgedchick at

  27. Please enter me in the giveaway. I think this looks like a great historical read.

  28. Would love to read this book!


  29. Interesting!


  30. Great post. I'd love to read this book so I'd love to enter.

    bj19662001 (at) yahoo (dot) ca

    Thanks Amy.

  31. OOOH, a good English read!!!!
    How exciting to find that stealing a simple orchid can cause such an uproar!
    Please enter me in this giveaway!
    chakasa58 at gmail dot com

    +1 I tweeted

  32. I would love to read this one! Thanks for the opportunity.


  33. Would absolutely love to read this. Thanks.

  34. The book sounds great. I'd love a chance to win it. Thanks!

    confessions (dot) avidreader (at) gmail (dot) com

  35. Interesting post, nice slippers (picture) and great book references, thank you!

    nunezbella at hotmail dotcom

  36. As a writer, I second her gratitude to historians, and I also like this post because it gives the lie to people who think writing is just jotting things down on paper.

    It's not as hard as ditch-digging or teaching three-year-olds; but it's still work.

  37. I love how when you read something and it becomes like a wild goose chase - totally leading you from one question or topic to the next. I find that I always find out so much by researching that way. Thanks for the wonderful post.

    Please enter me for this giveaway. dolleygurl[at]hotmail[dot]com.

    I Tweeted -!/dolleygurl/status/10488099410808832

  38. I really enjoyed reading about how you research your novels. Please enter me in the contest.

  39. The book sounds very intriguing! I would love to read it.

  40. tweet:

  41. Thank you so much for this interview!!
    I recently reviewed this book on my blog -- I just loved it :)

  42. Thanks so much for this insight into your process. It comforts me to know I'm not the only one who does it this way. ;D

  43. Looking forward to reading this book!

  44. i'd love to read this :) k8thebookbuff at yahoo dot com


  45. Levens Hall is just gorgeous!!


  46. please enter me ! i am a follower and would love to read this!thx

  47. Deborah,
    Thank you for a most interesting post. I appreciate the effort you put into researching you work. I have heard some complain about "history lessons" in historical fiction, they just want the story. If that is the case, "the story' can happen anywhere and might as well be contemporary. I read historical for the Historical part of it. I want to know those little details. I want to learn something as well as enjoy a good book. You have a lovely cover for you book and it sounds like it will be a book I will enjoy.

    I shared on Facebook (Patricia Barraclough)

    librarypat AT comcast DOT net

  48. This sounds like a fabulous book. I'd love to get my hands on it!

    Thanks for the chance,
    onebookshy at yahoo dot com

  49. Thanks so much! I would love to win this one. I'm so fascinated...
    kaiminani at gmail dot com

    I shared on:
    google buzz

    It's on my sidebar at

    Thanks so much

  50. Love really rich experience books like this one. Would love to win! Thanks for the chance.

    safoga at gmail dot com

  51. I've wanted this book ever since I saw the cover! I really enjoyed the post on an author's research, and ideas for a book...very interesting. Thanks for the entry in your giveaway.

    Holiday Blessings,


  52. Please enter me to win. Thanks! mljcwsu at yahoo dot com

  53. I would love to be entered to win this! Thanks! :D

    +1 Sidebar:

    +1 Tweeted:

    +1 Facebook:


  54. Great giveaway, thank you!!

  55. Great giveaway, thank you!!

  56. This looks like a great book. Thanks for yet another awesome giveaway.

    jmartinez0415 AT gmail DOT com

    I tweeted this too:!/crazylilcuban/status/12793782118383616

  57. I'd love to read this. Thanks for the chance!

  58. Great post! Thanks for the giveaway

  59. I was truly fascinated about how you do your research. This has always been of interest to me as I know a lot of work must go into it before you can even begin to write your novel. Thank you so much for sharing that with us and I cannot wait to read the novel. By the way, that castle is gorgeous!
    Connie Fischer


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