Saturday, 3 November 2012


For my two published novels - which are both historical - I committed myself to months of research - whether visiting the places that inspired my settings or else reading up on the fashions, the customs and etiquette. Before I could even begin to write I felt that it was imperative to have a reasonably adequate  grasp on politics and social affairs, on the popular art and literature that had influenced my characters.

Looking back now, I realise that much of the research carried out when writing The Somnambulist, and then Elijah's Mermaid, went on to dictate the progression of plot, even inspiring new story strands that, due to my previous ignorance, would not have been included.

However, for my next project, I have decided to slow right down when it comes to such intense research. The story will also be set in the past and will therefore require some background work to familiarise myself with the era but - this time - I want to see how it feels to give my characters free rein to the develop their personal stories, rather than allowing them to be informed by external events.

Who knows if this is a method that I will be able to stick to. One of the things I love about writing are the facts I glean along the way, and how exciting it then is is to expand upon my story's themes.

I have no doubt there will be times when I'll need to refer to reference books. But my aim is to try and be restrained until the first draft is actually done, so that any extra details found will only be there to clarify and flesh out the plot's reality.

What about you? How do you go about research - whatever the period you write about?


  1. I research for a long time, but find I have to put it aside to let the story out. Always good as a back up though to refresh fires when story stalls....

  2. I remember Rose Tremain saying that she works in just that way...lots of research and then, let it go.

  3. I rely on my general and background knowledge, then research particular facts as and when I need them. I think background reading is good to help you give the flavour of the period, but too much research in a novel swamps the story. Not historical, but when I read Ian McEwan's Saturday I wanted to throw the book across the room - he'd obviously researched brain surgery in a lot of detail and wanted to make absolutely sure his readers knew this too...