Tuesday, 30 January 2018

How Much Technology?

Do you research the technology in your books?

I'm not just thinking about modern phones and the like, but also historical technology. Have you got the make of the car right, were there telephones in every house in the period your book's set in?

And it's not just 20th century books that you have to be careful with, it's also historical fiction. When were the first windmills built in the British Isles?

There are also various pieces of technology which we wouldn't ascribe to certain periods, but recent archaeology is showing was available. With each passing deacde, it's becoming apparent that the Greeks had more advanced technology than we credit them with. Mechanical devices to help them navigate at sea for one thing and other machines that caused doors on temples to open automatically, using hydraulics.

Were you aware the first fax machine was designed and built in the 19th Century? That parts of the London Underground were electrified before Queen Victoria died?

Elon Musk is developing an underground railway system using air pressure, but Brunel had designed something similar in the 1850s, though the materials available at the time were not sufficient for the purpose.

There are plenty of resources on the internet to help you with research, but some resources you may not be aware of are these.

- The Medieval Machine: Jean Gimpel. One of the first books I read that opened my eyes to how advanced medieval technology was.
- Ancient Discoveries. This series, produced by the History Channel (though my DVDs are from Reader's Digest), covers ancient technology in some detail. Not only does it explain how the machines, such as robots, were built, but also how effective they were. (Also on youtube. Search as: ancient discoveries history channel)
- Ancient Inventions: Terry Jones. A Seventh Art series looking at the various social aspects of the Ancient World (Also on youtube)
- Office for National Statistics and The National Archives. Plenty of information to keep you away from actually writing. How many people had dishwashers in 1980?
- British Library Online. Some of it's free to look at online, other parts require a subscription.
- Cylinder Archive. One of the stranger collections out there, it's an archive of digitised cylinder recordings from America's past.
- Scared Text Archive. Not much missing here. Just about every religion and myth you can think of. And a few you can't. Also covers various forms of mysticism and paranormal events.
- World Digital Library. Lots of ancient texts, old photos.

 Each of these can help you discover the technology of the past and what people are using now. Just be prepared to lose a few days of your life while you do the 'research'.


  1. Thanks for this - could be very useful.

  2. Love this. Thank you. I spend a lot of time researching what had been invented and what hadn't for my Poppy Denby books in the 1920s. It also helps to shape the mystery knowing what tech aids could or could not have been used - how that would effect the investigation and the time frame of everything.

  3. Martin, I can't resist asking: do you proofread your blogs before posting? I am intrigued by the reference to 'Scared Texts' [sic] - I presume you meant Sacred!

  4. Very important research! I have spent some time trying to ascertain when iPhones were first sold and becoming common in the UK (as opposed to the USA). One teenager needed to have had one given to her by an uncle visiting from the USA, so she was ahead of the game. But also, which other characters might have one, and when laptops were first around, were people carrying these back and forth to work, what kinds of cars were what kinds of people driving. Plenty of research! Takes ages, less with Google these days ... I have had to learn a lot about DNA and what goes wrong, why, and how, when a child is born with inherited problems ...