Thursday, 12 December 2013

Getting Down and Dirty: Just how far do authors go to research their fiction?

Getting down to it... with the sheep?!

This question must be one of the most commonly posed by writers to their characters. In fiction they go further than the next girl in the office. That’s why they’re in a book. Of course in real life some characters do go further. These are the heroes, life sentence prisoners, saints, presidents and  stars of the media galaxies. They have their own brand of  fiction called biography. They don’t need novelists.

My biggest problem as a writer is how far I can physically go to follow where the character is going. This is why I don’t feature nuclear submarines, wing walkers or trapeze acts in my books. I have just completed a novel entitled Shannon’s Law which will be released or perhaps allowed to escape, next year. The book is in my own self-styled “Passion Patrol” genre. She’s a girl cop and she gets around. I’ve tried to keep up. I’m very lucky in that I’ve got a resident cop story editor, Oscar, to tell me what’s feasible.  He is absolutely useless though, at telling me what’s of interest to girl cops. He’d dress them all in track suit bottoms and an old vest while brewing their own cider in a bucket.  He also doubles as a stunt man. This is his true talent. To see how far my character could go I got Oscar to test a climb of a nine-feet wall using a bicycle. It was relatively easy to write. Suddenly the spectre of an Amazon one-star review troll crossed my mind. The whole book could be trashed if such a climb was not possible. Phew! It was. I told him straight that I’m rarely wrong and a gentleman’s true function is to prove a lady right….

Driving him up the wall... for the sake of veracity in my art.

The book is set among the English aristocracy and Royal Family. Access to classy residences is easy in England and so I set out. Here I must make a serious point. I do believe in research. In the attached photos are the very houses and places I describe in the narrative. I have traveled up and down the land (an afternoon drive to you Americans)in search of locations. When my characters take tea in the orangery I know exactly where they were - Avington Park near Winchester in Hampshire is the inspiration for much of the scenery in my new book, Shannon's Law.

Was this where Nell made King Charles feel fruity?

When they walk in the footsteps of King Charles II and his mistress Nell Gwynn, I have walked those floors. When they coalesce in physical harmony (you know…have good raunchy sex) in the bed of an Empress I’ve seen the bed and imagined the action. I have to go off location to test out the real thing. Few tour guides permit detailed research of this nature. They do permit the watching of a whole game of cricket. I think I understood more before I started. I tried to make notes but fell asleep after the first five hours. When I woke up rain had stopped play. The result was a draw but apparently that was the objective. Climbing walls was nothing compared to this although Oscar was fascinated and took along some home brewed cider.

Some of the action takes place in Venice. I’ve been there but the tax authorities just have no sense of integrity in Art. I love the place but no writing quite captures the ambiance of the drains on a hot summer day. Google maps et al are a wonderful resource. Shots of police vehicles and internet articles about riot batons make fascinating reading for the dedicated researcher. Features about forensic labs and DNA profiles completely distract me from actual writing. When the action moves to Las Vegas I had to spend hours watching Elvis...

Now, there’s no getting away from the physical aspect of Romance. Sometimes you just have to get down and dirty, even if it means rolling around with sheep to get that full mental picture. Would you go this far?

Luckily my leg is a lot better and I was able to research personally a passionate shower scene. There’s some places you can’t operate with a crutch, or a camera.

Finally, it’s all about getting into character. I just have to believe I’m in that woman’s head. There was nothing for it but to dress up. Here I am posing with my hand written exercise books that contain the story.

Taking Shannon's Law into my own hands. D o you think I look like a sassy street cop? I hope to arrest you in the name of love.

Little did I know that Oscar felt himself stirred by my new uniformed persona. Luckily several scenes required research in that very area. Sometimes you just can’t go far enough.

Originally posted on Venture Galleries Blog

1 comment:

  1. Life is a data bank chock full of research material. Unfortunately, many people fail to stop and take advantage of it. Writers, by their very nature, are smelling all the roses along the way. Well, at least the good ones do...


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