Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Research for Contemporary Novels

On Monday Ana told us of the research she’s done about Brittany in the 15th century. Today I’m going to tell you about some of the research I’ve done (so far) for my novel.

Okay, it’s contemporary. I don’t have to read up about food, clothes, furniture etc. from a bygone age. It’s set in the English Lake District, an area with which I’m very familiar, so you might wonder why I need to do any research, but I’ve had to look up (or at least check) quite a lot of details.

Also, I decided my hero was going to be the local vet (actually I think HE decided!). What do I know about vets? Nothing. More research needed!

When I started the novel back in January, I thought it would be interesting to make a list of all the topics I’d ‘googled’ as part of my research. Sometimes they were simply to confirm something I knew (or thought I knew), and in many cases they were only needed for one line of dialogue. Here are some of them:

Supermarkets in Ambleside
19th century ‘crimes’ in the Lake District – sheep stealing etc
Traditional Cumbrian surnames
Lake District tourist sites, for details of cottages to rent
Photos of Lake District in winter
Sculpture trail in forest
Interior of church in the ‘real’ village I’m using (although giving it a different name)
Veterinary surgery – staff/responsibilities etc
Vet. emergencies in countryside
Farms in Hampshire
Wood burning stoves
Edinburgh vet school
Info about broken ankles, plaster casts, splints (including a request on FB for personal experiences of breaking an ankle)
Walks around Grasmere
Rydal caves.
Lake District estate agents (for hero’s house) – floor plans etc
Lambing time
Hedgehog hibernation
Foaling – time taken, possible problems
Activities for children in Lake District
Typical Geordie expressions
Dogs’ ear infections
Using brand names in novels
Tower of London – ravens
Lady Jane Grey
Child custody cases

There were many others similar to the above, and others where I didn’t actually use the information I’d looked up.

I’m about half way through the novel, so who knows what else I’ll have to look up before I get to the end? So, even for a contemporary novel set in an area I know well, there’s still a lot of checking and research involved.

With each novel, I’ve learnt a lot of new things. I now know what a Nemes headdress is, I know what correlation spectrometers measure, I know how much it costs to stage a London musical, I know how often the Eurostar runs from London to Paris and I know about dogs’ ear mites. All wonderful, although probably useless, trivia, but it’s all part of the fun of being a writer.


  1. I think part of the fun of researching is only small bits of it actually make it into a finished book, but we'll have the fun facts we learned with us for a long time!

  2. Yes. We can impress our children, be interesting at cocktail parties, and have a leg up if we're ever on Jeopardy!

  3. Very true, Debra - only a fraction of what I learned about the Valley of the Kings and the Pharoah's tombs went into the book, but I thoroughly enjoyed the research process. Similarly with volcanoes for another book.

  4. I don't do cocktail parties these days, Ana! But my newly gleaned facts HAVE helped at times in the online trivia quizzes I do regularly. I remember one day when three different questions about volcanoes came up, and I knew all the answers (which I wouldn;t have done before I'd done the reesrach for my novel)!

  5. Research is so much more fun when you're doing it for something you like (such as a story) than when you're forced to do it (like in school). You're becoming quite the expert, Paula!

  6. I love research, even when I don't understand half of it (like the volcano research). Tonight I've been looking up Stanislavksky and method acting - loads to read, but just 2 lines of dialogue as a result!