A friend recently asked me if I enjoyed researching the topics in my books? I get asked that a lot, so I figured I’d drop a line down and post it out for whoever might be interested in part of the writing process.
In short, I absolutely love researching subjects for a book, but only if I want to learn about it. That’s the way my head works.
I hated school. I dreaded going. I wasn’t bullied. I was lucky in that regard, but I saw it happening. But more than that I just couldn’t connect to anything they were teaching me. I didn’t care about it.
I was a reader. I read books. My home life was awful so I lost myself in literature and absorbed myself in incredible worlds where the wonderful things happening could never compare to the shocking dullness of Mr Twat the Geography Teacher rattling on about sedimentary rocks being stuck up his arse while little skinny Jenny is having notes passed to her telling her she’s a ginger skank and why doesn’t she just die.
That probably sounds angry, but that’s how it was. School was brutal in the UK in those days, and the most heart-breaking thing is that it’s probably worse now with the added pressures of social media.
The point is – I just didn’t respond to that environment. But later, when I wanted to join the police, I developed the desire to learn, and found I absolutely loved it. No. Hang on. That’s not true. Police officers have to learn a lot about traffic stuff. Like the legal limits on tyres and when lights should be on skips and if the skips have the name of the owner on them (Ospre Part I anyone? They always cover skips) I really didn’t enjoy the traffic stuff, but I did it because I wanted to be a good police officer. I loved crime, you know, like drugs. Public Order. Violence. Car chases. Foot chases. Night shift. Dark alleys. ONE RUNNING! Calling it in. Giving chase. Telling them to stop. STAND STILL! They reach a dead end. They turn. The fists are up. They’re in fight mode. Woohoo! Best day ever.
I’m digressing. Yes. I really like research, because I’m mostly writing about things that interest me, so losing myself into whatever subject I’m covering isn’t work at all. I’ve recently written some new material about Artificial Intelligence. And to cover a topic like that you need to know your stuff. That was weeks of research, but oh my days it was fascinating. Plus, that series covers different and very specific events in history, some of which are only loosely referenced, but in order to get that one line of reference to have the right impact you need to know about it.
Take Typhoid Mary for instance in A Town Called Discovery. She was also referenced in The Four Worlds of Bertie Cavendish. You have to be right when you are covering a factual subject like that. Especially when you are writing for a big audience, because mistakes will be noted, often gleefully.
In Extracted I wrote about a safety switch on a Glock pistol. Jesus. You’d think I’d shat on the Stars and Stripes by the sheer numbers of emails and messages I got from American readers. And it doesn’t matter that it was a time travel novel, and that history was changing around them. It was perceived to be a mistake.
That also happened in A Town Called Discovery. Towards the end of the book Bear and Thomas are in the trenches when someone shouts ‘FOR QUEEN AND COUNTRY” When in fact, at that time, England had a king. Jesus. You’d think I’d shat on the Union Jack by the messages I got from English readers. And again – it was a time travel novel where they were actively changing events to alter time to save humanity.
But the point is, it was still my fault for either making the mistake in the first place, or for not making it clear enough in the narrative that it was a result of history being changed. (One of them was a mistake, whereas the other was done on purpose, but I ain’t saying which)
So yes, you have to get it right. OR, of course, you can be bloody minded and make an obvious mistake on purpose while knowing you will get lots of emails from armchair experts.
But research isn’t just about specific topics. The Undead 25. The Heat (Part 21 to audio listeners) was written over a two year period, often during the various lockdowns we had. In that book the characters follow a certain route through southern England. I won’t plot spoil, but the route they take from the Marcy Sneezing scene onwards is 99% real. Every road. Every town. Every shop they see. Every school and road layout. They’re all real. Because of lockdown I obviously couldn’t travel to those places, so instead I spent hours on Google Earth and Google Maps choosing the route and working out how to blend the things I was seeing and finding into the story. That said – I’ve also been to a lot of those places in the past, so it was cool to use memory and fact at the same time. Even at the end battle in that very specific location – it’s all exactly as it is in life, even down to the buildings they use. The only fictious part that I can remember putting in was the office block when we meet Train Guy. That office block doesn’t exist there.
Doing stuff like that is great fun and I get a huge kick when someone pops online or messages to say OH MY GOD THAT WAS MY HOUSE! Or I WORK THERE! I’ve even had people emailing and commenting online to say they’re out driving the route while listening to it happening. That must be cool. To see the actual scene in front of you and imprint the characters going through it.
So yes, the research side of things is one of the best parts of being a writer, and it’s cool to lose yourself for a while clicking links and following breadcrumbs. It adds to your depth of knowledge and broadens the mind, and knowledge can only ever be a good thing.
I hated school. But I love learning. School isn’t for everyone, and if you know a young person that is obviously bright but not doing so good then it could be that the environment just isn’t for them. But then I didn’t know that at the time, and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to verbalise it if someone had asked me. I can see it in my nephew now. He’s super bright, and if he gets his teeth into something he is interested in, then he’s off and achieving excellence, but if not then it’s like pulling teeth.
Anywho. Research is awesome. Go research something. Anything. Find a topic. Any topic. Read about it. Click links. See different opinions. Don’t be biased or opinionated. Have an open mind – then get it wrong on purpose and sit back with a wince when you get emails from people moaning cos you’ve shat on their flag.
*I really hope you enjoyed The Undead 25. The Heat. Please do leave a review! ** I’m now writing the 3rd Code Series book and deep in space with Yassy, Sam and Zhang Woo. So much fun!