This month the subject of our Round Robin is research. How much do we do as writers? Does it bother us if we come across inaccuracies in a novel?
My novels are all set in the present day, but they still involve a lot of research. If I make a mistake about something that’s current, it’s bound to be picked up on by an eagle-eyed reader and spoil the story for them.
Here are some examples of research I’ve undertaken:
My first novel, The Silk Romance, was set in the city of Lyon in France. One of the great ways to research is to write what you know. I spent several months in Lyon as a student, working as an au pair, and revisited the city a few years ago, so I have a good knowledge of it, and only needed to check a few facts as I was writing the novel. Although the internet is a massively useful tool, nothing beats the actual experience of living in a city to get a real feel for it.
Jean-Luc, the hero of The Silk Romance, owns a silk mill in Lyon. I worked in a woollen mill for a while in Yorkshire, where I picked up vital knowledge of the weaving process, plus an understanding of the likely customers the hero would have, and the stresses and strains he’d be under to make the mill prosperous. The passages that featured the silk weavers were fun to write and brought back a lot of memories about my own work in a mill. As extra research, I also read Liz Trenow’s The Last Telegram (reviewed here) which is set in a silk mill in England.
Jean-Luc is a former racing-driver – and that’s one profession I have no direct experience of! This is where the internet, television and film really come into their own. I spent a long while researching various races online and watching films such as the excellent Senna, which is a documentary about the Brazilian racing-driver Ayrton Senna, a sporting hero, and an excellent role model for my own romantic hero :) In one scene in The Silk Romance, Jean-Luc takes the heroine, Sophie, for a trial run around a race track in a sports car. I watched a video of a similar event obsessively until I felt I could write it exactly as I’d seen it. Sometimes it’s inevitable that imagination has to take the place of direct experience, and this is where thorough research is vital.
In A Way from Heart to Heart, I again chose as a setting places I knew well – London and the Yorkshire moors – but there were very many aspects of this novel that were outside my experience. I enjoy researching, though, and have become adept at finding sources of information. Sometimes you need to be a little resourceful, but in the main there is an absolute wealth of information to be found on the internet. One scene in the novel involves a character performing a parachute jump – something I’ve never done (and have no intention of doing. I’m terrified of heights!) I found lots of info about similar jumps on the net from various training schools, complete with videos from start to finish, and so it was very easy for me to imagine myself actually standing at the door of a plane with the wind rushing past…and being in an agony of terror :)
There haven’t been many occasions when I couldn’t find the information I need very readily. One time that that does spring to mind recently, though, was some research I was doing for a few scenes in my present wip. The
hero of my present novel is a diver in the Lake District. I’ve dived in the Caribbean (which was awesome!) but I have no idea how anyone gets kitted up to dive in a freezing cold freshwater lake in the north of England, or what the scene will be like below water. As try as I might, I couldn’t get enough information on this either on the internet, or looking for TV programmes, films, books – anything! I was stumped. Then I came across some information about a dive club in the Lake District area, and I emailed one of the members, throwing myself on their mercy. I was a little nervous about doing this – what would they think to a romance author looking for advice? Would they think it funny? Would they ignore me? But in the end, as so often happens, they were delighted to have the opportunity to show me how to kit up, and even took me to a lake and did a dive for me especially, so I could watch them and make copious notes. They also provided me with a CD of their underwater filming for reference. Perfect! I now have some excellent research material – plus new friends! So, research can be fun as well as necessary :)
And now on to the second part of the Round Robin: does it bother me when I come across inaccuracies in a novel? The answer is yes, most definitely. If I read something that isn’t right, it throws me out of the novel in a big way, and I can’t stop thinking about it. This is part of the reason why I devote so much time to research for my own novels, as I don’t want my readers to lose the thread of the narrative because they’re focusing on inaccuracies.
Even the smallest inaccuracy sometimes sticks in my mind. In a novel I read recently, one of the characters says that fashions in the seventies were all about long hair and short skirts. The author of the novel was in her thirties, and wouldn’t have direct experience of this decade. I kept thinking about her character’s statement for ages, because I don’t think it’s true. Perhaps at the beginning of the seventies, as a hangover from the sixties, but the fashions I remember from the seventies were flares, mid-length skirts and short hair. Just the opposite. And that inaccuracy is now the one thing I remember from that particular novel! So it just shows how important it is to do your research.
How about you? Are you a writer, and if so, how much research do you do? As a reader, does it bother you if you come across inaccuracies? If you have any questions or comments at all, I’d love to hear from you!
And if you want to hear the other authors’ take on this subject, please do drop in on their blogs and find out their perspective. Here are all the other authors in the Round Robin.
Heidi M. Thomas
Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/