Trove: the writer’s best friend

Absolutely fabulous best friend. Writers often do very strange things in the name of research. Take for instance me. In the early days of writing my manuscript Paris Next Week, I decided on the suburbs my main characters would live in. Sarah Montague would live in Elizabeth Bay and her best friend Louie Gilbraith would live in Darling Point, a surburb east of the centre of Sydney and just east of Elizabeth Bay. See my earlier post Playing Musical Chairs With Sydney Suburbs on how I came to that decision. Now all I needed was a suitable house for both.

Enter my best friend. It wasn’t too hard finding a suitable mansion on google for Louie but Sarah’s house proved elusive. I don’t know how many searches I did on google for Elizabeth Bay houses/Elizabeth Bay mansions/Old houses in Elizabeth Bay etc. I wasted hours trolling through 21st century real estate and countless images of the iconic Elizabeth Bay House. Nothing suitable. Around this time I had started using Trove and bingo! 103 search results, predominantly the first half of the last century. I had my house for Sarah along with a lot of internet sites such as the Historic Houses Trust, the State Library and the Government Printing Office. Invaluable.

Need to find what wealthy Australians got up to in the 1920s? Try Tea Table Gossip which I only discovered through the newspapers scanned at Trove. “Mrs W A Sargent of Greycliffe, Darlinghurst has returned from her trip to Victoria.” “Miss Gertrude Toohey will sail for South Africa next week. Early in March her marriage with Captain Justin Pargiter, M.C., of the 27th Light Cavalry, will take place.” Priceless!

As Trove itself explains: “Trove helps you find and use resources relating to Australia. It’s more than a search engine. Trove brings together content from libraries, museums, archives and other research organisations and gives you tools to explore and build.Trove is many things: a community, a set of services, an aggregation of metadata, and a growing repository of fulltext digital resources. Best of all, Trove is yours, created and maintained by the National Library of Australia.”

AND it is not just Australian content. Trove has content from the rest of the world. I was recently searching for details on the Burlington Cafe in Sydney. No luck on google so I choofed off to Trove. Sure enough I found one image of the cafe in 1919 and because I hadn’t ticked Australian content I came across a lot of US content as well. For instance: “Burlington, N.C.Cafe Owners form strong bond” an article published in McClatchy-Tribune Information Services, 2004 April 4.

I’m off now to find a house in Avalon in 1923 suitable for a big, possibly drunken party. Wish me luck but I don’t really need it as Trove has my back!

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How to get distracted writing historical fiction and/or the girl on the beach

Source: ( Photo by Branger/Roger Viollet/Getty Images )

Girl on the beach 1925

Yes, it’s a serious problem for historical fiction writers when doing research – staying on track. In the 1980s I went through all the photography books (and there was a lot) at Dee Why Library. Of course I didn’t need to look at all the photos – most didn’t have anything to do with the manuscript I was writing but what the heck! Now with the net the problem is magnified 100 times over. The number of photos that are available is staggering. Google images, Instagram, Flickr, Trove – all waiting quietly (Hey, don’t mind me!) to lead you away from words on a screen/page.

In this instance Pinterest was the culprit. I had been googling 1920s clothes and pinning them on my board Research for my next novel. Pinterest, being very helpful, kindly said “You might like this!” and there was a board on the 1920s that I decided to follow. Some boards are small of course and only take a few minutes to glance over but occasionally I would find myself drifting away from my writing. You know how it is! I love that dress of Audrey Hepburn’s! And really, Warren Beatty was pretty good looking when he was young. Wow, I want to go to that French village right now. This sort of thing happens frequently when I’m on the net but no harm here! This board was on topic – the 1920s. I scrolled down through the images and there she was! Simply a girl on a beach, looking sad yet sort of posed at the same time. I was done for! My writing and research lost for the rest of the evening.

I found myself really studying the photo. Gosh, it does look posed. A publicity shot for a now unknown actress? A photographer friend suggested it was actress Edna Purviance, Charlie Chaplin’s leading lady in many of his films. I googled images of her and decided no, it wasn’t her. I then did a Tin Eye reverse image search. The one that was pinned on Pinterest had no name or details. Maybe another image might have more information. Tin Eye came up with 24 results and it appears the original photograph is a Getty image taken by the French photographer Roger Viollet with a title of “Swimmer on the beach of Deauville (Calvados), about 1925”. A location but no name!

I searched her face again. She really was very pretty! Maybe it was a lucky snap that became a bit of a hit and the damsel was pinned up wherever males congregate. I’m guessing she might have been extremely popular with the French Foreign Legion when the state of her chest was noticed! She is actually striking a pose similar to Farrah Fawcett in that that red swimming costume back in the seventies!

None of this helped me identify her of course and why is she sitting by herself? Is she waiting for someone?I believe she wasn’t an actress because I’m sure if she was, she would have been identified by now. I mean, how many photos do we view a day? Even when we aren’t researching, people put up posts asking please identify. Photos are multiplied over and over in vastly different locations. Gradually the dots are joined but not for the moment for my girl at the beach.

Three hours later after originally viewing her picture, my manuscript is pushed to the back of my mind. I have lost valuable time and asked unanswerable questions, such as: Who was she? Was she a model? What did she do with her life? She’s about the same age as my character. I wish I could chart her life through known facts so that I can have a few signposts for my girl; be made aware of what it was like to be young and beautiful in the 1920s.

She has led me on a merry dance but then I stop and look at her once more. Actually she hasn’t. I’ve only just realised why she caught my attention in the first place. She has abundantly thick and wavy hair – auburn, I’m guessing, just like my main character Sarah Montague’s. I haven’t lost time. Here is a real life sister for an imaginary young woman that I need to return to.

More problems with shipping

Well, I didn’t get to the Mitchell (State Rail doing track maintenance) but I did find a ship through the wonderful website AIF project. http://www.aif.adfa.edu.au:8080/index.html
Working between the AIF Project and the Australian War Memorial embarkation section http://www.awm.gov.au/research/people/nominal_rolls/first_world_war_embarkation/introduction.asp
I was able to find some details about the Hospital ship Kanowna. She departed Sydney on  25th September, 1917 and had nineteen doctors and six nurses on board. Definitely room for my character Miss Summerville to depart with them.

Now here is the new problem! After several days searching I was unable to determine that voyage’s ports of call or disembarkation. I couldn’t find anything on google, no shipboard diaries on Trove, the brilliant website of the National Library of Australia http://trove.nla.gov.au/ or the previous two websites. Peter Dennis of AIF had some  suggestions regarding the NAA http://www.naa.gov.au/ and finally their ISS Department came up with the answers: a logbook of the Kanowna, a two page document detailing the 7th voyage of the Kanowna and a book entitled Sea Transport of the AIF – all available to view in Sydney. Yay! So I’ll be back down there again soon!