Even as I write this entry, I've got two horror films in mind. One is An American Werewolf In London (how many people forget the 'An'?) - the other one is the 80s remake of The Fly, with Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. With 'American Werewolf', part of what sells the film's narrative for me is the realism. Everything from the slow, grotesque and painful metamorphosis to Kessler's sheer disbelief, agony and terror that he's actually changing. Similarly for The Fly; where Brundle's terrible accident means he evolves/devolves into a creature which is just that - an accident/aberration - rather than a valid creature, along with his morbid fascination and desperation at the gradual loss of his humanity.
Such good storytelling isn't an accident. Time and consideration goes into it, along with research - one of the things I pride myself on.
Those of you familiar with my work will know the vast majority will know it's set in and around London. There are a couple of (short story) exceptions - bonus points if you know which ones. Even though I'm born and raised and live in the capital, there are elements of the city I can't just write about, and need to do a little research for. The last thing you want is a reader calling out major plotholes/inaccuracies in your work because you didn't do your due diligence.
From my earliest forays into writing, I appreciated the value of research. As a fan of much of Michael Crichton's work, I saw the benefit of it firsthand - how he blended fact with fiction; Jurassic Park is a good example. Similarly for Timeline; how it weaves modern science and medieval history into a work of fiction. One of my earliest stories, I Wouldn't Let You Die, is an example of dedicated research. Reading up on crop rotation and pest control, along with scarecrow usage - and even watching videos of a wheat field, just to get a sense of place. As well as how it might sound when the wind blows across the field and through the crops. All that for a short story of some 3000 words or so. So Dreamy Inside had me damn near inhale a bagful of Hotel Chocolat's finest, all in the name of research.
The more stories I wrote, the more I fell in love with the research element as a necessary evil. Yes, there's a rationale in creative writing to 'write what you know', but it's unlikely that you'd know everything related to what you want to write - especially for a work set in the real world. With works in the Sunset is Just The Beginning/But Worse Will Come mythos, I used to work near West Norwood Cemetery, which plays a major part in the mythos. Beyond that, I spent time researching the cemetery online, as well as walking the grounds (but not all 40 acres of it) and taking pictures and video as a way of capturing not only how it would look, but also feel. And this was before I realised that Friends Of West Norwood Cemetery do a free monthly tour of the grounds.
The internet might be a good start for research, with the likes of online articles and photos, but that's not always enough. For a story like Forfeit Tissue, this took more research; and involved approaching organisations for more insight and info. Some, like London Fire Brigade, were beyond helpful. Others, like a London hospital, not so much. Of course, such organisations have a job to do, and they're not obliged to help with your research, so you just accept and move on.
Thankfully, most organisations are happy to spare at least some time. In the case of London Fire Brigade, I made an appointment to see station staff, who were friendly and gracious and patient, while I took research notes. Also rewarding was the chance to hand them a copy of the book (Crossroads In The Dark II: Urban Legends, in which the novelette first appears) when it was published. Works, like the Semen novella, proved surprising in terms of research - not because I had to research pregnancy, contraception and such - but because this was my first time writing an animal character. Everything from what Max would eat, to his age and behaviour. That was an eye-opener.
Research, like my writing, has evolved. With the most recent work, Misery And Other Lines, this is possibly the most evolved and involved my research has been. Again, as much as I'm born and raised in the capital, there are parts I need to research to feed into the authenticity in the story. And because I love London, I need to do that and capture the sights, sounds, people, landscape and cultures that bring such a rich tapestry to the city. Based around London Underground, research was done, not too surprisingly, with TfL (Transport for London). Who didn't bat an eyelid (I think) when I said I wanted to find out how to transport a full-reticulated python on the network. I mean, I didn't transport one, but it's research for a story, so... Conditions of Carriage (if memory serves), is just one of the many research articles I have for that collection. Along with references from Zoological Society of London (think London Zoo).
Again, I need to give props to Rich Jones, who has knowledge of TfL, and consulted on the project to make sure that I pulled off an authentic representation of the network. Add to that the likes of station and platform layout, carriage fixtures (and this was the first time I read up on moquette fabric), inside of the driver's cab. Plus, given the cast of characters in the book, having other people read scenes and dialogue to make sure those characters were faithful and respectful representations, and not caricatures. So, yeah, a lot of work.
And of course, let's not forget that a story relies on its characters. As much as I pride myself on a diligent representation of London as a character, I'd be remiss if I didn't pay attention to the human characters in my work. They, too, get the white-glove treatment: pictures from newspaper articles and video footage of crowds, commuters, etc. where I can better visualise a character as I start to put a personality to them.
Why would I mention all of this now, and post a picture of a library? Good question.
For the latest WIP (work in progress), I'm researching something older. Not modern day, and I'm not about to get medieval on your ass, but ...let's say somewhere in between.
For all the research I've done on stories to date, my current method(s) would have me covered. This time is different; which I why I hauled ass to Battersea Library, after locating the archive I was looking for.
Very helpful it was too; a big thank you to staff for their patience and guidance, along with some deductive reasoning (because history can tell you a lot ...but it doesn't necessarily tell you everything). I can say it was a joy after days and weeks of trying to locate info you hope exists to find a treasure trove of it. Large plans and schematics on thick paper - and what appeared to be some kind of paper/linen; big enough to spread out on a desk, and use beanbag weights to keep them flat where they were creased. Old photos, newspaper clippings, brochures, handbooks, etc.
I can't wait to drop this story on you.
Because you can write 'what you know,' but research? Really adds weight to it.
#writing #research #library #battersealibrary #archive #miseryandotherlines #london #tfl #ZSL #londonzoo #londonunderground #hotelchocolat #lfb #londonfirebrigade #westnorwoodcemetery #fownc #butworsewillcome #sunsetisjustthebeginning #forfeittissue