There are four thousand love stories in Central Park

Central Park has over nine thousand benches. You might wonder why I’m telling you this, but I promise it will all become clear. Most people who head to New York, can’t wait to hit the shops, take in a Broadway show, visit the Statue of Liberty, and look out from the observation deck of the Empire State Building. I was no different, but what I didn’t expect, is that all of those things would pale into insignificance for me, when I fell in love. With Central Park.

At heart, I’m a country girl, so maybe it’s no surprise that I loved the oasis of tranquillity that Central Park provides in such a vibrant city. But it fired my imagination in a way that I’d never thought possible. And it was all down to those benches.

Over four thousand of them have been ‘adopted’, which means they’ve had plaques assigned – each one a mini love story in its own right. There were hundreds of them that touched my heart, and, if I’d had the time, I could have spent the entire ten days I was in New York, just wandering around Central Park, reading those plaques. There were proposals, dedications of love, and the marking of every momentous occasion you can imagine. But this was my favourite:

Isn’t that the most beautiful love story you’ve ever read, in so few words? I’d really like to know more about Meg and Wes, but what I do know is that they inspired the idea behind my latest novel The Christmas Shop at Central Park’. When Libby moves to New York to recover from the death of her parents, and takes a job working in a Christmas shop on Seventh Avenue, she reads a message on a bench – from Charlie to Grace – that changes her life.

The benches in Central Park weren’t the only things to influence the story, though. There’s a scene in the novel where the heroine can’t find the Empire State Building, even though she’s standing right in front of it. It happened to me, and I’ve never seen a police officer laugh so hard! But shrouded in mist, it didn’t look anything like I’d expected. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it… Just look how different it looked in these two pictures, taken on the same trip, I think it was a case of being too close to see what was right in front of me, first time around!

Leeds trip – Paula’s in the centre and I’m back left.


Four of the characters in the book are named after some friends I met up with on a trip to Leeds, and a throw away comment from someone when we were at that stage of the evening where rash promises are made! I’d gone on the trip with one of my best friends, Paula, and she was probably an even bigger influence on the story than those beautiful benches in Central Park. She’s an absolute inspiration, dealing with health issues which would stop most people, but somehow she keeps grabbing life by the scruff of the neck. One of the main characters in the story represents everything I love about her – intelligence, wit and the absolute refusal to do anything but live life to the full. I’d give Paula her own plaque in Central Park if I could, but for now she’ll just have to settle for having the novel dedicated to her instead.

If you get the chance to spend an hour or ten wandering around Central Park, reading those plaques, you won’t regret it. After all, you can go shopping in any city, but where else will you get the chance to read thousands of mini love stories, all in one place?


How to research a novel

Author photo - Helen J RolfeI’ve always been what I’d call an ‘over-researcher’ if there’s such a term. Back in the days when I wrote articles for health and fitness magazines I’d read up on a subject using literature and the internet, I’d interview a couple of experts in the field and even for a short article I’d have far more information than I ever needed.

So what about when it comes to writing a novel?

With The Friendship Tree I really took the age old advice of ‘write what you know’. I knew the Sydney location well enough to send my characters, Jake and Tamara, into the city. I’d worked with a PR team, Brewer Creek was a fictitious town and I had enough knowledge to place it in the right area. To make Jake’s job as the local veterinarian realistic I chatted to Write Romantic, Rachael Thomas, who owns and runs a dairy farm.

I’m finding that as I write more novels, I need to do more research. My ideas and my characters are taking on dimensions that I’m not familiar with and I owe it to the stories to get all my facts.

So how do I know when I’ve done enough research?

At a certain point I find that the information I’m uncovering is repeating what I’ve already found, what experts in the field have confirmed, and it’s at that point I know I have enough information to go on. Sometimes questions crop up during the writing process and I’ll do a little more research at that stage, but by then it’s minimal.

So what am I researching now?

Well, for book four, which is in the editing stages, I took myself in to see professionals in the field because I knew it would allow me to make my characters jump off the page. This book focuses on a character who owns and runs a chocolaterie and apart from eating chocolate, I know nothing about what they do each day. Luckily, Creighton’s Chocolaterie in Leighton Buzzard invited me in for a couple of hours to watch them work and to ask as many questions as I liked. By the time I got home I knew I had plenty of information to start writing and as I got the words down on the page I knew it wouldn’t have been so easy without seeing the work environment for myself.

Of course, part of my research was to taste a few varieties too and bring home some samples. I couldn’t resist!



I think research for a novel is easy to begin on the internet. There is a plethora of information out there and as long as you’re using reliable sites it’s a good foundation. I think talking / interviewing experts in the field is also really key to good research. For Handle Me with Care I interviewed a specialist who knew so much about testicular cancer. I was able to tell him the situation I’d put Evan, my character in, and ask him if this would happen. I asked him physical symptoms, the emotional trauma patients face. And most of all, it helped keep my story believable, realistic and accurate.

For my novel, What Rosie Found Next, I interviewed a firefighter from Australia and again asked about certain scenarios and technicalities for my characters and situations I’d be putting them in. This was crucial and the firefighter who helped me passed some of my writing around the rest of the team so I could get feedback from more than one source. It helped me make the writing accurate and I was so happy when a few of them said they were desperate to know what was going to happen in the book!

Another way to research is in person. It’s not always possible but I feel it really enhances the way you write if you are able to experience something yourself whether it’s doing a parachute jump (not me!), visiting a foreign country where you want to set your new book, or work shadowing to see how a job is performed and ask questions on the spot.

My first draft of book five is underway now and with it being in a totally different settting, a place I’ve never been to myself, the research is heavy but fun! All I need to do is persuade my husband to let me book a flight over to New York! It’s work-related after all!

Helen J Rolfe.


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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?