When I sat down to write my first novel - Holding Paradise - I just opened up the laptop and started to type away. I had the general idea for the story in my head and just let it pour out onto the pages. It was the most liberating feeling in the world. I was making it up as I went along but at a certain stage, and because my story harks back to 1936 and comes forward to 1998, there came a a time when I needed to check some facts to make it authentic.
At a time when the writing is getting too much and you need a break, if you need to research a subject for the novel, this is a good time to do it. As I wrote several drafts of Holding Paradise and took the novel through so many changes before I was happy with how I told the story, there was plenty of time to stop and research. But with Holding Paradise the story didn't rely on too much historical detail as it really is a story about relationships.
As I begin novel number two, and knowing how much the story will rely on local history (starting from the 1950s) I really need to be clear on my stuff.
My first port of call has been the trusted Internet. Whilst a lot of writers can find out practically anything sat in front of a computer, I find a good book gives me something very in depth and detailed. On the Internet I find I jump and change sites and get confused by the end of the session. A long laborious session on-line can sometimes lead you nowhere or with very little solid information. Books have been researched already! All you have to do is read the relevant parts.
So 1950s West London - where to start? My story will take us through to the 1970s and as I was just a little girl then I can see myself needing those history books. For me it is important to research a lot of my material before I make a proper start on the novel (I've got some opening lines, characters, an in my head outline and outcome of the story). But I want to get the feel and atmosphere spot on from the word go so research comes first this time.
My Plan For Research before I begin to write:
- Look up my subject areas on line
- See what books or magazines this leads to
- Go to the local library in the area my story takes place and research local history and look at maps of the time
- Take walks in the parts of West London the story takes the reader
- Find anyone with sound historical information on my themes and interview them (might be a relative or friend or someone they know so will do some asking around
- Dip into further research as required as I begin to write
- Don't be tempted to throw in great facts you find if they are surplus to your story
- Don't let your novel read like a lecture or history lesson
- Your story is made up so let your researched data roll off your tongue as if you were there
- Keep it to the minimum your subject will allow - writing is far more important
- Don't get frustrated if you can't find exact details, if your story sounds realistic then no-one will take you to task over a minor detail