I interviewed chick lit writer, Christina Jones about her ‘method writing’ approach to research in the #100 Feb 210 issue of Writers Forum.
Christina told me she always researches her character’s backgrounds to make sure they’re accurate. She revealed at first she used backgrounds that she knew well – horseracing (her granddad was a jockey), lorry driving (her husband was a trucker), fairgrounds (her dad was an ex-circus clown who then travelled with fairs).
However, once she’d run out of her own life experiences, she explained it was quite a challenge to start writing about things she didn’t know so well. To do this she turned to books for basic facts (the library was her second home), the internet for a quick-fix (God bless Google), but her favourite way of researching is to meet and talk to people who really know.
Christina explained experts are definitely the most helpful. She spent hours on the road with lots of lovely lorry drivers while writing Running The Risk learning all about transport law and how the haulage industry really works – and so that she’d know how Georgia, her lorry-driving heroine, carried out her job. Christina was even taught to drive a 42 ton lorry – but in the safety of a lorry park!
When researching Heaven Sent (about fireworks) Christina told me she had one of the best times of her life with the lovely pyrotechnicians from Fantastic Fireworks – they even taught her how to set-up and fire her own remote-controlled firework display.
With Moonshine Christina joined a local winemaking group to learn how to make homemade wine (such hardship!) and since adding a touch of practical magic to her novels, she had lots of help from various lovely white witches.
Before she meets her experts she puts herself into her heroine’s (or hero’s) shoes and make notes about everything they’re going to encounter or experience in the book and ask questions from their point of view. She write everything she think she’ll need to ask down.
During the interview she uses a dictaphone to make sure she gets all the facts correct, but she also take notes if something interesting crops up. When she gets home she transcribes both into a notebook like a long essay, then go through it and red-pen everything that isn’t needed and highlight everything that is. Christina told me:
“I think, without exception, I’ve become friends with everyone who has ever helped me with research, but I always write a thank you letter immediately afterwards, always acknowledge their help and expertise in the front of the books, and always send them a signed copy as soon as it’s published.”Christina Jones
Christina’s explained it is vital to list your sources and acknowledge your experts. It’s only good manners if people have been kind enough to give up their time to help then this is the least you can do. And it’s good publicity for them, too – and they all love seeing their names in books.
When she was writing Walking On Air she spent weeks with the Utterly Butterly Barnstormers to learn all about wing-walking (and spent lots of time with the pilots of small planes and had several flying ‘experiences’. She even did a wing-walk so she knew exactly how Billie would feel in Walking On Air.
“…strapped to the wings of a tiny wood-and-fabric bi-plane, hundreds of feet up in the sky, travelling at a hundred miles an hour, feeling the almighty force of the wind, and the cold, and the insects that get EVERYWHERE and stay there, and how much your arms ache, oh, and your face flaps.”Christina Jones
Christina revealed like Billie, her heroine, she wasn’t great with flying, and the thought of tiny planes with no escape routes terrified her. But once she’d met the pilots and wing-walking girls from the Utterly Butterlys and spent time with them both at their base and at air shows, and scrambled in and out of the Boeing Stearman bi-planes and teetered on the fabric wings ahw explained it was exciting, exhilarating and amazingly different. In fact, she LOVES flying now. She has even spent time watching them strip down a radial engine so she knew exactly how it worked and sounded.
Christina’s research tip for other writers is be prepared to listen to EVERYTHING you’re being told and then listen to a lot of other conversations going on around you as well. These little insider snippets – the things they don’t think are important – are sometimes the hidden gems that can spark off a whole new subplot.
“When I was researching Heaven Sent (fireworks) I had no idea until I listened to the pyrotechnicians chatting over a cuppa that no-one in the firework world has ever managed to create a dark green firework – and that this is the pyro world’s holy grail. This gave me a whole new area for Clemmie and Guy (my h&h) to explore and actually became one of the main plotlines in the book.”Christina Jones
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