An interview with Sara Snider… and the drinking habits of laundresses

Today I have a great interview for you guys, featuring Sara Snider. She’ll be talking to us about her book, The Thirteenth Tower, and sharing a wealth of interesting facts from her research — the weight of women’s clothing in the 19th century and the drinking habits of laundresses, for starters.

This interview is part of a series of posts where I talk to writers about the interesting things they dig up during their research process. If you know of an indie writer who you’d be interested in seeing featured in this kind of interview, let me know in the comments and I’ll see what I can do!

Right, without further ado, here’s the interview, hope you guys enjoy it!

ThirteenthTowerCoverThanks for taking part in the interview Sara! Could you please start by telling us a bit about your book?

The Thirteenth Tower is a fantasy novel about Emelyn–a seventeen year-old orphaned girl–who joins up with a pair of Magisters (wizards, basically) on their journey northwards to stop a menacing creature of magic. The Magisters promise to tell Emelyn of her parents, but, of course, it’s never that simple. The journey north is a bumpy one, with lots of magical happenings and things to discover, much of which is about Emelyn herself.


What kind of research did you do to create the world your novel is set in?

When I first started writing the book, I imagined it taking place during a time similar to the Victorian Era. (In actuality, though, the setting is probably closer to the 18th century rather than 19th ). Emelyn also starts out as a servant, so a lot of the research involved these two things. I spent a lot of time reading about Victorian domestic life in general as well as the various types of servants, their wages, duties, etc. It’s a fantasy world, though, so all of this was just to get an idea of a way of life from past days, which could serve as a foundation for me to tweak and build upon.

What was the most interesting thing you found about Victorian domestic life?

Laundry day was a big deal and very disruptive. Servants had to get up earlier than normal to heat the water. Soaps were mostly ineffective, and so clothing had to be scrubbed and boiled. Sheets had to be wrung out by hand, which was physically taxing. If the weather was bad, the laundry would need to be hung indoors to dry, which then meant living in dampness for days. Apparently it was desired to have so many spare bed sheets and undergarments that laundry would only need to be done maybe eight or nine times a year. Wealthier households hired a laundress.

Laundresses, in addition to their pay, expected “perks,” which was usually beer three times a day and gin and water at night. I’m not sure why this delights me. (It delights me too! Then again I’d want beer and gin too if I had to handle people’s undergarments all day)

Photo from Wikipedia

Crinolines, or hoop skirts, (all the rage in the 1850s) tended to catch fire and were a “fairly common” cause of death among women. Household guides recommended keeping a heavy woolen table cover or piano shawl nearby to quickly extinguish such fires. Thankfully, these skirts fell out of fashion about a decade later. But, honestly, I’m kind of amazed and baffled it took that long.

Additionally, women’s clothing was heavy. By the end of the 19th century, a fashionable woman typically wore about 37 pounds (17 kg) of clothing. That’s more than three bags of the cat food I typically buy. Seriously, I’m trying to imagine strapping three of those bags to my body and then go gallivanting around. Combine this with the fact that women were often malnourished (certain foods were considered “unfeminine” as was having a healthy appetite) and it’s no wonder that women were prone to fainting.

The part about women’s clothing is incredible, both the weight and the fact that it was fairly common for women to catch fire and burn to death. All I can say is thank god we get to wear trousers nowadays!

Taking a specific item you researched, could you tell us what pushed you to research it and how you weaved it into your story? 

Well, along with all the Victorian domesticity, I also briefly researched weapon fighting–with a staff, specifically. There are no swords in the book. All weapons are staves (well, there is one spear, but that’s really just a staff with a pointy end).

One interesting tidbit I took from this research was the practicality of such weapons. Everyone has access to a stick or club, which can’t always be said of swords or other weapons. I worked that detail into the story when another character—Corran—is telling Emelyn about how his dad taught him to fight with a staff, and his reasons for doing so.

That’s quite unusual to have a fantasy novel without swords — fantasy is usually pretty sword heavy. Did you deliberately decide not to feature any swords?

It was a deliberate decision to leave swords out, because, like you say, fantasy is typically quite sword heavy and I always wanted to write a story that was perhaps a little bit different from other fantasy books out there. In saying that, though, I do think the lack of swords fit the story (and wasn’t just me being contrary for the sake of it). We have the Magisters, who use staves primarily to help them with their magic. Then there’s Emelyn, who, as a housemaid, doesn’t have a weapon at all. For Corran, having him use a staff seemed to fit with his carpentry background and pragmatic father. Of course, this doesn’t mean that swords don’t exist in the world, because they do, and will even make an appearance in the sequel, along with a couple other types of weapons.

Did you come across any useful websites or books when looking into all that you mentioned above?

I like to buy books on the subjects I research, so that I can have them for future reference. For this project, here’s a list of books I read: (You can click on the book covers and it will open the relevant amazon page)

The Complete ServantInside the Victorian Home Victorian EnglandFighting with blades
















Forager Handbook

Oh, and I nearly forgot the book about foraging, since a lot of the story is spent wandering in a forest: The Forager Handbook: A Guide to the Edible Plants of Britain, by Miles Irving

And then, of course, there’s the Latin dictionary and grammar books that I used to help create plant names (one of the characters is a bit of a botanist), but I feel like I need to stop with the books because it’s getting out of hand. Those books I already had, though, from when I took a couple Latin courses during my university studies.


That’s a fantastic reading list, thanks for sharing all that! So how do you go about starting a new book, does the research inform the story or does the story guide the research?

The story definitely guides the research. Whenever I come across something I feel I don’t know enough to write about, that’s when the research starts. Most of the research I do is for inspiration, though. To try and get enough information about a time or a thing so that when I create my own version of it, hopefully it’s believable.

Well it definitely works, there’s a great sense of place to The Thirteenth Tower, it’s part of what I enjoyed about it. Thank you again for taking part in this interview Sara, and for sharing all that with us! 

The Thirteenth Tower

ThirteenthTowerCoverIn adversity lies strength beyond imagining.

Abandoned as a baby, young Emelyn’s life as a housemaid in the quiet village of Fallow is unremarkable—and empty. That is, until a host of magical creatures arrives and inflicts terrible misdeeds on the townsfolk. Inexplicably immune to their enchantments, Emelyn joins a pair of Magi intent on stopping the cause of the trouble—and who claim to know of her parents, promising Emelyn answers to a lifetime of questions.

But the answers Emelyn seeks prove to be more elusive than she hoped, and the world outside Fallow more perilous than she imagined. Magical creatures roam the land over, attacking yet another town before coming after Emelyn. The key to her survival—and finding her family—lies deep within her, if only she can conquer her doubts and believe she is more powerful than she ever dreamed.

In a journey that explores facing one’s fears amidst the uncertainties of an unknown world, The Thirteenth Tower is a magical tale of discovery, growth, and of love’s enduring strength.

You can buy The Thirteenth Tower at AmazonApple, or Kobo

35 thoughts on “An interview with Sara Snider… and the drinking habits of laundresses

  1. Great title! I laughed when I saw it. Those laundresses… better lock up the liquor cabinet when they come calling.

    Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Celine! It was a lot of fun doing the interview, and getting to revisit all those books again. 😀


    • Haha yes! It’s my favourite part of the interview. Now that it’s summer maybe I’ll take a leaf out of their book and have me a gin and tonic when I put the laundry on 😉
      My pleasure – it was great to have you, I really enjoyed doing the interview with you!


  2. So interesting to learn these things. I enjoyed reading it. I’m thinking it’s good I wasn’t around in those times. Between the sheets and the heavy clothing, I would’ve pretended to be a man 😉


    • No joke! As much as I like to romanticize the period in my mind, in actuality, I’m pretty glad I live in this day and age, particularly as a woman. Of course, lugging that much clothing around might turn one into a muscular force of nature, which has it’s own sort of appeal. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: An Interview at Down The Rabbit Hole | Sara C. Snider

  4. Fabulous interview!! I’ve seen photos from early hiking clubs here in Colorado and the women wore all that clothing to tramp up and diwn the mountain trails … FOR FUN!! Your book collection fir research was very interesting – especially the foraging book. Such fascinating info. I hope your book is well received. Congratulations.


  5. A fascinating and interesting interview thank you Celine and Sara. Boy, can you imagine carrying all that EXTRA weight due to clothing? I had no idea … love the laundresses lugging back the beer and gin 🙂

    All best success Sara with your book.


  6. What an interesting reading list – that one that includes fighting with staffs sounds like it could be useful, since I have a story where they’re used quite heavily.

    Being a laundress sounds like a tough life, but they must have been well appreciated to get perks like that. When folks didn’t wash a lot (18th Century rather than 19th, I think), they appreciated clean clothing and bedsheets against their skin, so there must have been a lot of work for laundresses.


    • Yeah, I’m imagining laundresses being quietly revered. Household members whispering, “for the love of god, just give her what she wants.” I suspect the laundresses knew this (hence, beer).

      Cool detail about the clean sheets against less-than-clean skin. And you’re right, I imagine being a laundress back in those days was a booming business.


  7. Celine and Sara, I loved the interview. Especially the tidpit on everyday life. Social history is always the best part in any historical research, I think.

    I never imagined that women caught fire because of their clothing. That was quite horrible… and yes, why did it take that long to change clothing? Also the info that people only washed their undergarnmets only seven or eight times a year. Imagine that!

    When I was a young writer, I always marveled at the amount of reserch a fantasy book might require. I suppose I thought fantasy should be made up. But today I think there’s nothing as amazing as reality. Fantasy based on reality is the most compelling for me 🙂


    • I find social history especially interesting. Even in art galleries, I’ll bypass the paintings of kings and noblemen to go look at the paintings of cooks and kitchens and… laundresses.

      As for the underwear, I’m only hoping they had enough spare sets so that it wasn’t as gross as it sounds… 😛

      Reality is actually pretty amazing. There’s a reason the saying “truth is stranger than fiction” exists. 😉


    • I totally agree with you Sarah – fantasy that has some basis in reality is my favourite kind. It’s part of the appeal of genres like steampunk, or dieselpunk because they do tend to be quite heavily based on reality.


  8. Such a fun interview. Loved reading about Sara’s research. Wow. Great info on laundresses. Such a hazardous occupation! I’m glad I don’t have to wear a crinoline.
    I also appreciated Sara’s view about a no-sword book. I also chose not to feature an iconic sword in my fantasy novels for the same reason. So many fantasy books have them!


  9. Interesting interview! I enjoy learning new things about that era. I knew women’s clothing back then was bulky, but I had no idea it weighed that much. I can’t imagine having to wear all that every day. And the fact that it caught fire so often is scary. I’d never heard about that. Loved the details about the laundresses, too.


  10. Wow! This is a fascinating interview! I love that you chose staves and staffs as weapons in your book. Moving beyond arrows and swords is a good choice. It’s frightening to think that catching fire because of clothing issues would be a hazard.


    • Thank you, Tyrean! And yeah, I’m kind of amazed with the advice to keep a heavy woolen cloth at hand for the specific reason of extinguishing clothing fires. I mean, if you have to put that in a book for the general public, it’s time for a fashion change, don’t you think? 😛


  11. Excellent tidbits! I’ve always been amazed at the clothing women used to wear–it was hot and heavy. Corsets, especially, look terrible. I’m glad fashion has evolved so I don’t have to wear twenty petticoats.


  12. I love the theme of this interview. Of course women in those days had faint spells with fear of catching fire constantly on their minds. Their hearts beat faster at the sight of a single man lighting a cigar. Talk about high-risk fashion.


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