1. Creative Writing: Context

(You can download this video from Media Hopper Create.)

How did you get started writing your first historical fiction novel?

Hare was Peter Ranscombe’s debut novel, which took the story of Burke and Hare, and asked the question “What happened to Hare after Burke was hanged.” The answer to this is unknown. This made it an ideal story to develop as an historical fiction.

Find out more about Peter here http://www.peter-ranscombe.com/

Where does research come in to the writing process?

Research is an important part of the writing process and Peter is most interested in writing historical fiction with a strong science element. He starts with the plot and the characters, but brings research in very early on in the project because the historical and science elements can have a strong influence on the plot.  

Give us an example of where research is used in writing this novel.

Peter used historical records from the Scotsman to write Hare. The Scotsman records go all the way back to 1817 when the paper was founded. Burke and Hare were active in 1828 – 29 so Peter was able to read some of the accounts from the Scotsman, especially accounts of Burke’s trial and execution. The details he found added a lot of colour and atmosphere to the early parts of the book.

What resources proved to be most useful?

Primary resources from the Scotsman proved to be the most useful at adding colour and atmosphere. However, secondary historical pieces set in the same time and written mainly by historians were also useful to flesh out the primary sources and add context for the reader.  

Were any research resources from the University of Edinburgh useful?

University research was most important when it came to promotion. Peter worked with the University of Edinburgh’s Anatomical Museum, and was able to look at some of the original artefacts at the museum as well as the work carried out by the researchers there. This was particularly useful when going to book festivals and book groups to presenting talks about Burke and Hare.

Is it important to be accurate in your research?

Sometimes less is more. Accurate and detailed research is important but it should not get in the way of telling the story or drawing the characters in a full and meaningful way. It was a great compliment for Peter to be told that “he wore the research quite lightly”, meaning that although the research was accurate and the time period is accurate he did not let every little detail get in the way of telling the story. Where it is really important is in adding atmosphere for the reader, in the sights, sounds and smells of the environment and getting those elements across to the reader at home.  


It is said that everyone has a book inside him or her. Do you have a story you would like to write? Perhaps you have more than one. Perhaps you know of a gap in history, a bit like the gap of knowledge around Hare, and want to fill it in.


  1. How would research enrich your story?
  2. Where and when would it be set?
  3. What research would you have to do to create the sights, sounds and smells in the environment? What skills, expertise and capabilities would your characters have?
  4. What new knowledge would you have to learn to be able to fill out your characters?

Create a sketch of the research you would need to do in order to write a compelling story with atmosphere and believable characters.  Next, think about what types of resources you might use to help you write your story.

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