At the Sydney Writers’ Festival on the weekend, one of the events I went to was ‘The Most Unlikely of Paces’ all about authors and their research. It was a fascinating panel and one that I was particularly interested in because one of the things that has surprised me most about my own writing journey, is the amount of research I’ve had to do for my two novels, despite the fact I write contemporary fiction.
If I were writing historical fiction, then I would expect to have to do a lot of research. Geraldine Brooks, an absolute writing God when it comes to this genre, does so much research for each of her novels it is mind-blowing. But when you write a story about the first Native American to graduate Harvard in 1665(Caleb’s Crossing), or a story about an English village cutting themselves off from the rest of the country during The Plague in 1666 (Year of Wonders), then there’s no way around doing ridiculous amounts of research.
Writing contemporary fiction, though, I didn’t think ‘research’ would be high on my to-do list.
Granted, in The Point, through Ivy’s letters we do go back into the forties and WWII and I had to do research for that – check timelines and dates and how the end of the war was received. But even with Of Cupcakes and Dandelions when we see part of Alice’s story set in the nineties, a decade I’ve lived through and not that long ago – research! Can I have Alice and Dean using mobile phones at this time? Email? When exactly did they become everyday use by everyday people?
Maybe we can justify the nineties – it isn’t ‘today’ after all.
But…you guessed it…even with parts of the stories that are set today – research!!
In The Point Nicole renovates her cottage. Research! How would she bring the window frames of a 1930’s cottage back to life? Where would she source reclaimed tiles for the fireplace? What would the fireplace have been made of?
In Of Cupcakes and Dandelions, I originally had Alice’s favourite tree, where she escapes and dreams, as a Moreton Bay Fig – a tree that I’ve always felt was magical in its growth. Until I checked and discovered that where I’d set the fictional town of Lawson’s Ridge, Moreton Bay Figs would never grow in the wild. So I had to research what trees would grow in the area, and which of them had special properties that would fit Alice’s story. I even had to cut one of my favourite lines because I had to cut the Fig – “Sitting in a tree that grew from top to bottom, anything seemed possible.”
Before you panic, I did find a new tree and I like it (almost) as much my discarded Fig. Which tree? Well, you’ll have to wait till I get published to find out.
I reached out to a few of my author friends (all writers of contemporary) and asked them…
What’s the strangest/silliest/most interesting thing you’ve done in the name of research for one of your books?
“For my second book, Wife for Hire, I had to move Sam after her divorce from a McMansion in outer suburbia to somewhere cheaper and closer to the city. I finally settled on Marrickville. I barely knew where the suburb even was, so I spent the best part of a day driving around the streets, getting a feel for the place. I didn’t fall in love with it or anything, there was no epiphany, but ten years later, in a case of life imitating art, guess where I ended up after my own divorce? And I have fallen in love with Marrickville. Sam chose wisely.”
“My second book, Secrets in the Sky, involved several scenes with small aircraft. At the time, my husband was learning to fly, so I went with him and took careful note of procedures and terminology… also whether it was possible for the pilot of a Cessna to lean across and kiss the passenger.”
“I’ve bought biographies from swimmers such as Leisl Jones and Ian Thorpe to find out about training regimes for top level swimmers… I’ve also been googling top 50 disco tunes of all time. Donna Summer comes out on top.
So, who’d have thought? Even writers of contemporary fiction do a lot of research to bring you the stories you love
What about you? What’s the strangest/silliest/most interesting thing you’ve done in the name of your job?