alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)


Everyone has to do research. Even writers of contemporaries will occasionally have to look up police procedure, or how much a luxury yacht costs or what is the price of a room in the Waldorf, or what would really happen if you turned up in A&E with gunshot wounds etc etc. Writers of historicals know that research is essential and inescapable (and actually a great deal of fun). Even fantasy writers don’t get it all their own way. As I’ve said elsewhere, if a fantasy writer wants to convince me she knows all about dragons, she’d better get right things like how to lay a fire or shoot a bow – and that, if you don’t know it already, takes research too.

So, how much research should you do? How much is enough?

How long is a piece of string? On the one hand, no amount of research is ever enough. There will always be some little thing that you don’t know. There will always be something that some cunning reader trips you up about, because you thought you knew something that you didn’t, or you assumed something that turned out to be wrong.

Plus, of course, the more you know, the better. The more research you’ve done, the more embedded you are in that society and time, the more detail you can include, the more appreciation you will have for it, the more certainty and confidence you will have while writing, and the more authority you can speak with.

So on one hand you could research for ten years and not be finished. On the other hand, if you researched for ten years and never actually sat down and wrote the book, that would be too much. If you researched for two years and found, at the end of it, that you were so fed up of hearing about this subject that you didn’t want to write the book at all, that would also be too much.

I researched for two years before I wrote False Colors, but I was writing other Age of Sail stories at the time, and I was mostly ‘researching’ – by which I mean ‘reading fascinating books and learning new stuff which I really enjoyed’ for entertainment. I read it because I was interested and I wanted to know, not because I wanted to write a book. But of course when I did decide to write a book, all the research was there at my fingertips already.

This was a fortunate occurrence but not to be relied on to happen as a matter of course.

Research is a tricky thing. When I was writing Under the Hill, I thought I would research for a book set in WWII. This would be the book I wrote after I had finished the story in UtH. But the research turned out to be so interesting that I couldn’t wait to use it. It sneaked into UtH and made that a very different book than I had initially expected.

The conclusion I draw from this is that the timing of your research is also important. If you can research one book while writing another, well done you. If you can’t, that definitely puts a limit on the amount of time you have to do the research you need. If you’re trying to produce two or three (or four or five) books a year, and you have to do the research for each one immediately before you begin writing it, you’re probably limited to a month of deep immersion in research at best.

Of course, one way to get round this is to use a similar setting for several books. That way, you can research for six months and then rattle off three books on the strength of it, one after another without a delay.

If you have a strong attraction to one period of history, such that all you want to write for years is Regency romances, for example, then you’re set. You can learn as much as you need to write your first book in a few months or so, and you can continue to learn more and more as each book goes on, until eventually you will be a foremost expert on your period.

But if you want to do something different each time, you need to be satisfied with less research. It is simply not practicably possible to become an expert for every book. You need to become an expert in creating the illusion that you know what you’re talking about.

How to do this?

I suggest a short period of intensive immersion in reading anything and everything you can get your hands on about the era/subject you are learning. Give yourself a month to get all the books you can find out of the library, to read all of the websites and hunt down all the books in the bibliographies of the books you already have.

The first week is of necessity a week of the broad brush. Here you’re learning the shapes of what you don’t know – you’re learning where the gaps are that you have to fill. By the end of that week of indiscriminate reading, you will have an idea of where you need to look for more. I recommend that by the end of that week, you narrow down your century to an actual date. It’s much easier to find out what happened in 1742 than it is to find out what happened in the entire 18th Century.

Once you’ve got a grip on the basic details of the culture – what people wear, what they eat, what their houses look like, how they travel, what they live on, what they believe in – then you can begin to write.

Don’t at this point think that the research is over. It may take you four to six months to write your book. That’s four to six months more you have to read up about what you’re writing about. With editing and polishing and submission time, you may have a whole year to give yourself a crash course in your subject. By the end of a year spent reading up intensively on any subject you can usually know a decent amount about it, and until the book is actually being sent to the printers any mistakes can be still changed.

The reason I would start writing as soon as I had a broad overview of the culture in hand is this – you don’t know what you need to know until you know the needs of your story. Only if your hero is going on a carriage journey from Dorset to Inverness will you know that it’s vital to look up the state of the roads in Britain in [date]. If you did decide to research the roads on the off chance, and then he ended up taking ship from his home-town and spending the rest of the novel in the Bahamas, that would have been a waste of your time.

By writing and researching as you go along, you can make sure you’re focussed on the research which is most necessary to your story. Also, if you are writing at the same time as the research is permeating your consciousness, it will be most immediately in conversation with your muse. Your whole mind, intellect and creative powers alike, will be working together at what you’re doing, reinforcing each other.

To sum up, do as much research as you need to do to feel that you can create a reasonable simulacrum of this culture on the page. Then fill in the small details when you need to know them.

Or, do it in whatever way works for you, because if there’s one thing that’s become obvious while I’ve been writing this series of posts, it’s that there is no aspect of writing in which one fits all.

Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

Listen to this. Is this not the most gorgeous thing you’ve ever heard in your life? It’s certainly one of them for me, and I don’t normally like male voice choirs.

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How do I convey the same atmosphere in writing? It’s as bad as trying to describe what apple tastes like. Sometimes words are a very blunt instrument indeed.

Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

Just here

And wondering why the first week of NaNoWriMo has to coincide with half term, so I will start out at 500 words a day if I’m lucky. Why, people? Why are there so many damned holidays during which I’m all but forced to stop work?

No, stop that, Alex. No more resenting things you can’t change. Call this a reading week instead, and buckle down to reading Roumanian Journey, Songs of the Valiant Voivode, The Earl and his Butler in Constantinople and this amazing site. That should keep you gainfully occupied for a while.

Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

Well, it really is. Here I am, reading up on Romanian folk music, after having been informed that it wasn’t at all the same thing as the muzica lautareasca I posted about earlier – shame on me for propagating bad information – when I come across this:

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and it turns out that here is another possible relative of the morris, going back into a dim and distant past in which we all lived in the forests together.

I don’t actually see much similarity, (other than the bells, sticks, crossed sashes, association with hobby horses, and possibly the pole… actually that’s quite a lot.) But the stepping and the figures are very different, and morris – as far as I know – never was a ritual dance, despite what the Victorians might have you believe. Still, I embrace the possibility if only for the sake of the warm fuzzies of meeting a distant family member you never knew existed before.

Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

So, I’m really enjoying writing The Glass Floor, despite the fact that my agent tells me vampires are passe and difficult to find a home for. And despite the fact that I said I would never write vampires, ever ever.

I should know better by now than to say things like that. It’s like a challenge to my muse. The beloved pesky creature pricks up its ears and goes “What’s that you say? You’ll never write vampires because you can’t see what’s so attractive about snogging a corpse? You strange person! I can see a dozen ways of writing a vampire story that don’t involve necrophilia, and now I’m going to suggest all of them to you, just to show you I can.”

If nothing else, the urge to write proper, traditional vampires has lead me to learn all sorts of things about Romania that I never knew before. I do like the armchair travel aspect of being a writer. There is nothing like researching a book to make you realise how wide and whacky this world of ours is, and how ignorant I am about most of it.

It also makes me appreciate Bram Stoker’s artistry in creating atmosphere in Dracula – the things he left out, and the things he infodumped. When I read his book, it does not come with Ottoman, Austrian and Russian politics. You’d never guess the Romanian princes were Greek servants of the Turkish empire imposed on them from outside, or that the country had been an Ottoman protectorate for centuries. All of which I find in equal parts fascinating and a bit too complex to easily get my head around.

Dracula comes equipped with a mental spooky soundtrack, including wolves howling and creaking doors, and possibly a lone, wailing violin in a minor key.

Mine will come with Romanian folk music, for the lulz (and the contrast.) I bet you never associated vampires with this


And yet from now on I always will. Oh Radu, no wonder you are angry all the time. You have a lot to put up with!

Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

Ah, if only all blogging was this effortless! Today, courtesy of Charlie Cochrane, I’m talking about the differences between m/f and m/m romance on the Flirty Author Bitches blog:

Thanks Charlie!

I’ve also recently started using Pinterest. I’m always curious to try out the latest new thing in social media – largely in a vain attempt to find one that will suit me. Often I make a great, enthusiastic start and then lapse into silence again. Who knows whether that will be the case here or not? But I will say that I actually see a way to use Pinterest in the cause of writing.

I’m currently doing galley proofs for the Under the Hill books, and then I’m going to move on to editing The Pilgrims’ Tale (and then I’m going to move on to editing Elf Princes’ Quest.) So I’m saving my “but I still need to write, or else I’ll go insane” brain by doing 500 words of a new vampire novella in the morning before I get to work on all that editing. And – coming slowly back around to the point here – Pinterest is being brilliant for keeping all the research pictures that I’ve never known what to do with before.

Now if I Google “18th Century Wallachian Boyar” I don’t have to just look at the picture and try to remember it, or bookmark it, or download it and upload it into an awkward research folder somewhere. I can just pin it, and then I can go and look at all my similar pins together and get a pictorial overview which is wonderful for giving a feel for the atmosphere. And I can organise all of this by book, which makes lots of sense to me, and also ends up looking very pretty.

So yes, I can see myself using Pinterest on a regular basis. I have no idea whether it will be of any use, social media or promo-wise, but I suspect that’s always been very secondary to me anyway. As a research tool, it’s prime :)

Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

I hope not all authors are like this, but I have the sneaking suspicion that it’s a tendency at least I share:

On Saturday it was the Cambridge day of dance.  The Riot had been invited but we couldn’t field enough members to make a side, so I went in support of my husband’s side, the Coton morris men.  At the first dance spot a lady fell into conversation with me – which is normal enough, cos that’s partly what it’s all about (connecting people, getting them to talk and laugh together).  She explained that she was a classically trained dancer who was “respectfully and non-judgmentally” writing a book about dance.  So far so good – I’m all in favour of people writing books, as you know.

Then she said “which village are you from?  Tell me about your tradition.”  I was a bit non-plussed by the village thing, because it’s been almost a century since all the members of most morris sides all came from the same village, and I didn’t initially twig that that was what she was assuming.  I said, “well, these are the Coton morris men and they dance in the Cotswold style.”

At which she looked at me as though she’d stopped believing a word I said, and (in a kind of ‘stop messing me about’ voice) she said “Coton isn’t in the Cotswolds.”

Read the rest of this entry » ).


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September 2017

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