Sarwat Chadda’s first novel, The Devil’s Kiss, was released by Puffin in May 2009 and was quickly followed by the sequel, The Dark Goddess. He has also written a breathtaking action adventure series for children aged 8-12 years, called Ash Ministry and writes under the pseudonym Joshua Kahn. He is currently working on a project with Rick Riordan. I interviewed Sarwat about his research in 2009 for my Research Secrets column.
He explained that for him the research comes before the writing because he loves reading about history, mythology and fairy tales way back when he was an engineer. He likes to start something on a whim and then explore the area, culture and background until he reaches a saturation point. This gives him enough information to sound convincing and have all the key characters and locations in place.
Ultimately, his books are about the character and feels everything else is scene setting. To help create his characters he looks into his life and projects how he was at the age of his protagonist. He said the core needs come from there.
Sarwat insists research shouldn’t be a chore it should be part of the fun.
“We’re not just putting words down on paper we’re offering readers our unique take on the world. If you’re finding it hard work constantly, question why you’re doing it. Writing is about passion, life’s too short to be wasted on something you don’t love.” (Sarwat Chadda)
Most of his research is done through books. In fact, he admits that his biggest cost is books, but he was buying them before he decided to become a full time writer. Sarwat believes that libraries are our greatest resource. I agree. Use them or lose them. He explained:
“The Internet has its place, but nothing beats getting really into a subject in a library and second hand book shops. They’re great since you’ll come across stuff that’s years old and since I’m writing about mythology, those sort of books just set the mood perfectly.” (Sarwat Chadda)
He said the danger is over-research and getting yourself trapped by it. But he does not have a system for the way he does his research. because he feels the best thing about writing is the license to mix it all up how you like. His tip to other writers is not to stack your books in a too organised manner. Mix them up and see what happens as you’ll come across connections otherwise impossible to see if it’s all logical.
Sarwat explained sometimes the ‘official’ version doesn’t work and you have to tweak it. This happens a lot in historical fiction, especially with combining characters and moving dates. But that’s why it’s called FICTION. In his adventures he admits he makes up all the difficult and dangerous stuff.
For all that sort of practical detail on the ‘day in the life of a warrior’ he got in touch with various re-enactment societies and visited shows around England. Since his books are based on the Knights Templar, he found their working understanding of the practical nature of the arms and armour of a medieval knight, very useful.
“They explained the nitty-gritty of the sword hilt, the practicalities of the weight of armour, its properties and the weapons designed to overcome mail or plate. It’s all these details that make the story breathe with a sense of reality.” (Sarwat Chadda)