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As I mentioned a little while ago, in preparation for my writer’s retreat in the summer I am spending all of my “Plank time” (as my husband calls it, with a raised eyebrow) doing research ahead.  The difficulty of it is that I don’t know yet exactly what I will need to know – and it turns out that the beauty of it is that I am discovering all sorts of things that, with more structured research, I might not have spotted.  Some of them will end up in the book, many more will not – but they are all (a) great fun to learn, (b) enriching my own personal education, and (c) contributing to that bedrock that allows writers to convince their readers, in subtle ways, that they know what they are talking about and are therefore a safe pair of hands.  (I forget who it was who said it about whom, but I am always aiming to emulate whoever it was who “wore his knowledge lightly”.)

As an example, I was rootling around for things that happened in 1825 – the setting of the second Plank book – to give some local colour, and perhaps a topic of conversation for Sam and Martha over dinner.  And I learnt that in May 1825, a young black American actor made his debut on the London stage.  Ira Aldridge had tried to work in his native New York, at the splendidly-named African Grove Theatre, but racism propelled him across the pond to the more liberal London theatre scene.  You can read all about him here.  I am not much of a theatre-goer, so perhaps you have all heard of him and are yawning widely, but for me it was a revelation to learn that London was such a multicultural society even in 1825.  So I have popped his picture on my Pinterest page (try saying that after a Pimms too many) as a reminder, and may look for a way to make a passing reference to him.  Martha could gaze longingly at a poster outside the Royalty Theatre while Sam grumbles about the waste of money…

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