In The Name Of Research.

Research- for some the thought of it is a joy. Maybe you are an author who loves to spend time in the library going through the reference section, and loves every minute of what you are doing. Or are you someone who would prefer to be practical in their research, to be on the scene and experience what it would feel like to be in the place you are writing about, to walk the path that your hero or heroine will be journeying on. To imagine being in their shoes.

I wanted to know how far an author would go to research their novel. So I asked Sue Moorcroft and Henriette Gyland about how far they would go. They have both been good enough to give me an insight into what research they are doing for the novels they are currently writing.

Sue. I do keep thinking that I ought to write about things I want to do (fly a helicopter, drive a car around Silverstone circuit, drink very expensive wine) but it never seems to work out that way. Soon I’m going on a 42′ seagoing boat when, usually, I avoid boats on the sea like the plague. But I want to know more about the boat than I can get from the brochure-how it feels/smells/moves, how easy it is to get up on the flight bridge and stuff like that. This book, ‘In the same boat’ (working title), is also making me scuba dive this September, when I haven’t been down for six years. But I’m looking forward to that a lot more than going on the boat.

For my next book, I think the heroine is going to have a face lift and find a toy boy….Maybe she’ll get be the one who drinks expensive wine, too.

Sue, I take my hat off to you. Now I wouldn’t mind going on the boat, even though I can’t swim, but the thought of scuba diving just sends a chill down my back. Being under water must be an incredible experience, I’m not sure I could do it. I can honestly say if you need help to do any research regarding the possible novel about the heroine who drinks expensive wine, gets a face lift and finds a toy boy, I would only be to happy to help, I know sometimes this can be a burden, so just want to be there to lend a helping hand.

Henri. Good question. As far as it takes, bar actually murdering someone! (people do tend to get killed in my books)  When I was researching my historical novel (out May 2014) which is set on Hounslow heath, I went to stand on the heath itself to get a sense of the sounds and smells of the place. Although there is not much left of it now, and what you hear is mainly traffic and the aeroplanes from Heathrow, I still learned what the ground felt like to stand on and what sort of vegetation grows there. Also, one day when I can afford it, I may get a costume designer to make a Georgian dress for me 🙂

Henri. I know what you mean. There is nothing better than to stand in a place where your novel is set, to feel the atmosphere, to picture the place it used to be, and just be a part of it. To visualise your hero or heroine walking or riding across the heath. Sometimes you may hear voices that seem to whisper to you from the past. It brings the past to life. And to have a dress from the Georgian period would be something special. I hope one day to see you in it Henri. What better way to do research, than to live it.

My novel is set in the world of lingerie, so it has been an interesting time for me, as I have had to go into some rather interesting shops, to have a look at what my heroine would be looking at to wear and sell. So when I went into one well known shop (my friend advised me not to go to the back, just stay at the front) I nearly fainted when a very helpful male assistant smiled and asked how I was today! All I wanted was to sneak quietly in and have a look around, and also feel the material of the lingerie. This due to a scene in my book, and leave. Yes. Thinking about that particular day, I think scuba diving is becoming rather appealing. Also I have been fortunate due to living abroad I have experienced the tail end of a typhoon. to sit on a balcony with a cup of coffee, as the wind begins to blow ferociously, almost bending the tree branches to the ground, watching as the rain lashes the ground, sending its spray against my skin. All this is going to be a part of what is going to be in my novel.

It seems that Sue and Henri love to research in a practical way, to experience and feel what their hero/heroine would experience. To put themselves in a different pair of shoes. To go as far as it takes. And I confess I am more a practical researcher, and it is fun, and sometimes a bit scary.

Thanks Henri and Sue for sharing your answer to my question, and telling us about how far you would go for your novel.

So, having read everyone’s answer to my question, I just want to ask you, How far would you go to research your novel?








9 thoughts on “In The Name Of Research.

  1. I agree with all of you – it’s great to actually be able to go to the places where your novel is set and to try and experience the same things as your hero/heroine. I went to Scotland for that purpose, sticking my hand in a loch to see if the water was too cold for swimming for example. And I went to Japan to get the right background information for another novel. You really can’t beat it! Great post 🙂

    • Japan is a long way to go for research. That must have been an incredible experience, it is said to be a lovely country. Scotland is very romantic, somewhere I haven’t been to yet, but would love to go.
      Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. Who knows where your next novel will lead you. That’s what I love about writing, it takes you to places you thought you would never go to.
      Lorraine x

  2. Hi Lorraine, great post and very interesting to hear what two successful novelists do in the name of research. We’ve discussed location before – fictional v real – and I’ve said mine is fictional so I haven’t had to do too much research on that. However, I have found the internet to be invaluable on little things like what time the sun rise would be over the North Sea in mid October, what the time difference is between New York and London, how high a hot air balloon cruises and, a bit more sinister, how long a dead body would lay undiscovered before the neighbours complained about the smell! For the sun rise and the hot air balloon, I have experienced both these things in person so I could draw on personal experience from before. I will pass on the dead body experience!

    Most jealous of Sue and her scuba diving. I’m a qualified diver but haven’t done it for 13 years now. Such an amazing thing to do so maybe a future book involving diving would be the excuse I need to go again just to recapture the colours, feel and serenity. Of course, I’m a hot-weather diver so it would need to be somewhere exotic. Like the Caribbean. Hmmm, liking that thought ….


    • Hi Julie,
      You are lucky to have had the opportunity of flying in a hot air balloon. Now I have to confess I don’t like heights, so the thought of flying like that gives me a shivery feeling. Although I once flew in a helicopter over Niagra Falls, and didn’t have a problem. It must be the thought of having something solid in front of me, that helps. I always think it is good to write something about what you have experienced, although I agree about the dead body research we don’t need to do to much research into that one!
      Definitely next has to be scuba diving in the Caribbean. I can’t wait for you to write that novels.
      Lorraine x

  3. Really interesting post Lorraine. It’s fascinating how much research goes into a book and I just wish I could jet off around the world each time I start a new story!

  4. Hi everyone,
    Thank you to Sue and Henri for sharing your research experiences. I have been scuba diving once, in Greece and must admit I wouldn’t do it again as it was just so eerie underwater…my relief when the instructor indicated for us to return to the surface was enormous!
    I have told my husband that when I am a published writer I will set one of my books in New York at Christmas time, and of course I will have to have a research trip there to do it properly!
    I think it’s invaluable to immerse yourself in the experience of others so that we can write about subjects and people with as much accuracy as possible. Of course, this isn’t always possible firsthand but we can rely on many other sources such as the internet, state libraries, second hand experiences, books already published, and even TV footage.
    I studied Research for Writers as part of my Graduate Certificate in Writing and the topic I chose to look at was forced adoption. This was highly emotional for me as I am an adoptee, but it was also one of the most interesting topics I have ever researched. Back in the 1960’s and earlier many mothers were literally forced to give up their babies – one disturbing television program talked of a mother who was tied to a bed and her baby was taken away. To research the topic I had my own experiences and the story that I was told by my own birthmother when I traced her back in 2009. I also used TV footage, I interviewed several adoption counsellors who deal with birthmothers and adoptees, and I also spoke with three mothers who surrendered babies for adoption.
    I do have one real bugbear and that is when I pick up a novel and the topic of adoption is addressed but it becomes evident that the writer has not researched the topic very thoroughly. (Just for the record, not Sue or Henri!) Without being too specific, the last book I read that had a character who was adopted, wrote phrases that I doubt any adoptee would say, particularly one in this character’s circumstances. It’s hard to make this point but what I’m trying to say is that the research should add to making our characters all the more real therefore creating empathy when we read. Unfortunately when I read the book in question it threw me out of the story a little.
    Research, however we do it, is vital and I think that we owe it to our readers to do it right.
    Helen R.

    • Helen, what a journey you have had. It must have been so emotional for you. Yet the experience you have had can really enable you to write from the heart. Thank you for sharing this with us. And I think New York is a great place to do research. I don’t mind helping you.
      Lorraine x

  5. It was an experience talking to birth mothers, one of whom I really connected with and was able to help her from an adoptees point of view. I can’t be specific about her story but it was one of the most satisfying parts of my research.

    Brilliant Lorraine! New York here we come!

    Helen R.

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