The importance of research

Candice: Last week Phil and I went to an event as part of Stratford Literary Festival.  Billed as ‘Adele Parks and Jill Dawson – researching for fiction’ we thought it would be worth attending for two reasons: one I’d read some books by Adele so was curious to see what she was like, and second we’d just had a long conversation about whether we needed to get something factually right for the book, so I thought it would be good to see what they said.

I was the last one in as had had to get there by train and it was running 15 minutes late.  So I snuck in the door, sat down, and off they went.  If I’d been a minute or so later I could have been replacing Adele and been ushered into the front !

Settling in to listen we had an introduction to the two authors, one a regular historical writer and the other usually a writer of romantic fiction who had decided to explore something else.

Both ladies had similar but also different approaches.  Jill was more of a ‘fly by the seat of my pants’ writer, she planned some of her work but admitted that she didn’t really know how the end would work so just let the writing flow.  Adele was more of a ‘post it note on the wall’ kind of girl, working out her year so she’d finish the book in time to go on the family holiday.  This has obviously worked as she’d turned out 15 books in as many years.

Both admitted to researching as they went, writing some and then going off to find out something they didn’t know.  This might also mean trips to the places they are actually describing, though in Jill’s case it seemed the place and historical story she based her book on often came first, and this is what drove her writing.

It became very clear, particularly in Adele’s case, that she had become extremely engrossed in her subject.  As a first time writer of a fictional book based on fact she’d wanted to get the true story across of the ‘spare brides’, those left behind after the first world war.  She’d delved into the detail so much that she now had a house full of posters and knick knacks from that era.

Some of the best points from the interesting hours talk were:

  • Your readers need to stay in the moment.  Detailed research is good but only if we, as a present day reader, understand it.  ie don’t use a term that means nothing today
  • Also, they need to be unaware that you have researched, the story feels natural to them
  • You need to know when too much research is a step too far.  It might be nice to include that point, but only if it adds to the story.
  • And finally, it doesn’t have to be true as long as you, the reader, believes.  Going back to Phil’s last post about action books, they are terrible for this, putting someone in a situation where they would die but miraculously the come out unscathed.

I’m still unsure about this last one, but then I am a terror for picking flies in story lines or looking for mistakes in films so perhaps I am the extreme.  I just want to make sure with this book, as we are talking about things I know nothing about, that the reader doesn’t get put off by us getting our naval terms wrong.

Anyway, I got a lovely signed book at the end and had a brief chat with Adele who also seemed lovely!

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One response to “The importance of research

  1. Pingback: Strong Female Characters – how do you not make them a ‘bitch’? | nolanparker

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