Picture Books for Writers

Some of my favourite research tools are books of historical photographs and online pictorial resources; including historical maps, photographs and drawings. Alone or combined with contemporary written descriptions, these resources are invaluable for creating authentic settings. I love to scour online archives in search of just the right map or drawing. Not only are maps excellent for providing accuracy, topographic maps from the correct period can also help me picture the route a character might take, the length of a journey and the appearance of the surrounding countryside. Photographs, drawings and paintings of the time lend authenticity to a description but also suggest quirks and tics about the setting and the people that I may not have imagined otherwise.

Below are a few of the pictorial resources I used in The Concubine’s Child.

The Pinang Peranakan Mansion (featured above) includes photographs, paintings and descriptions of an atmospheric house in Penang, which is now a museum. I have visited the mansion but the book was a very useful reminder.

malay history
As the title suggests, this is a book that is filled with amazing paintings, drawings and photographs from Malaysia’s long history.
planter bungalow
Includes stunning photographs and commentary on numerous plantation homes in Malaysia and Singapore, plus some historical memoirs.
straits house
This book combines evocative photographs with informative descriptions of life in a Straits Chinese Mansion.

In addition to these and other picture books, I made extensive use of the resources available online from the Singapore Archives. Since Malaysia and Singapore were once both part of the British colony of Malaya, the National Archives of Singapore includes material from both countries. The maps were especially helpful.

National Archives of Singapore

Currently I am researching a novel set in 1850s China and Australia. Some online resources that have proved especially helpful include:

The University of Bristol’s collection of Historical Photographs of China:


Gwulo: Old Hong Kong collection of images:


The National Library of Australia’s collection of digitised resources: