CJ Sansom talks about his writing process
I have only one firm rule; never, if at all possible, depart from established historical fact. On the rare occasions when I have had to for plot reasons (for example in Heartstone I have had to have Richard Rich, one of Henry VIII’s councillors, accompanying the king to Portsmouth to inspect the fleet before battle–whereas in fact he stayed safely in London. If I have to make changes like this I always mention them in the Historical Note.
Once I decided which aspect of the period I want to write about–and there are so many dramatic stories in Tudor England–I set about research. Fortunately, I now have a large bookcase full of books about the period; so I can read up about the background, but then I have to delve deeper to find out as much as I can about the subject I have chosen.
Usually the research takes 3 to 4 months, some books being easier than others. I consult academic articles, obscure books and some original sources From the period. The Internet has changed how I researched–when I started in 2000 it was pretty well useless, but it is now essential and I can consult many of the articles, and find the books I need cheaply, without leaving my desk. In Heartstone I was able to consult the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth, where huge amount of artefacts have been recovered from the sunken vessel.
I usually do most of the research before I start to write–I am sure it sets things going in the subconscious, because when I start writing the first draft it usually comes together fairly quickly.