Elaine Roberts begins the month with her own experiences of research.
Research is different things to different people. I know people who love a bit
of research and will do masses of it, just to buy a television or a mobile phone.
Some actually do it for a living and I take my hat off to them, because it’s not
a job I could do.
Personally, I have nightmares about it. As soon as it’s mentioned, I’m immediately transported back to school, sitting at the dining table, surrounded by masses of
encyclopaedias. My memories of starting with one book, which gives away my age, and looking in the index for the page number where the information can be found. Excitement sets in because you’ve found the page, only to find it contains one line of the research item and advises looking under another category, in another book, for more information. So half an hour, and six books later, I would have several small amounts of information, which I never had a clue how to make into an essay.
Hence the reason I was always surrounded by books.
Recently, during a one to one with a publisher, at the Romantic Novelists Association Conference, I was asked if I would mind changing the setting for my novel. “Of course not,” I said, “thinking yeah, I can do that, how hard can it be, that shouldn’t take long” and in all fairness it probably didn’t. I’m not altogether sure how long an author would normally take over major changes to their novel.
Thank goodness for technology, the Internet and a supportive husband who likes research. Google Earth, a marvellous invention, allowed me to walk along streets in Australia, so I had a good idea of areas and the types of houses. I could see what shops the main character would walk past when she left the house. I was able to find out all sorts of information, including college courses, the weather conditions, plants, spiders, even Australian Christmas cards. All done on a click of a mouse and in a fraction of the time it would have taken me at school, oh to be young again. Actually, for the record, I have no desire to go back to being school age.
Research can also come from talking to people, whether by e-mail or face to face. It’s surprising how many people are happy to impart their knowledge, when they know you are writing a novel. Although it’s always best to check any facts and sources, so the novel doesn’t get discounted on a technicality.
I take my hat off to past authors; research must have been slow for them. Although, I suspect I picked up associated skills along the way, which have helped me as a writer. Patience and perseverance are two that immediately spring to mind, along with being able to tackle things in a logical manner and problem solve. I approach my writing in the same way as I do any other problem, how to get from A to D without going via F.
I believe I am lucky to have the ability to use modern technology to embrace
the research side of my writing. However, there is a small part of me that thinks the younger generation have missed out on my school days experience and only time will tell whether they have also missed out on gaining the associated skills that go with it.