Category Archives: Research Secrets

An interview with… Tim Bouquet

I interviewed investigative reporter, Tim Bouquet, about his research methods way back in 2008 for my Research Secrets slot in Writers’ Forum .

Tim specialises in investigative narrative story telling for a variety of magazines including The Times MagazineTelegraph MagazineEsquire, Reader’s DigestMelbourne Age and the Irish Times. He is the co-author, with Byron Ousey, of Cold Steel Britain’s Richest Man and his Billion Dollar Battle for Global Empire (Little Brown). Cold Steel is about Lakshmi Mittal and an epic, dirty and sometimes racist, takeover battle he fought to take over the world’s second biggest steel company. This creative non-fiction thriller, reads like fiction.

Cold Steel

Lakshmi Mittal, a Calcutta-born industrialist, raised himself up from humble beginnings to become the world’s fourth-richest man. He proposed a friendly merger with rival Arcelor, a pan-European company whose interested parties include the governments of Spain, Luxembourg and Belgium. Arcelor’s mercurial CEO, Frenchman Guy Dolle, firmly refused the merger. The scene is set for a massive hostile takeover involving billions of dollars of finance, government and shareholder manoeuvring, and accusations of jingoism and double-dealing. Cold Steel brings to life the cut and thrust of big business at war.

Lakshmi Mittal

As part of their research for Cold Steel, Tim and Byron interviewed 55 people face-to-face in six countries. Tim told me:

I organise all my research by chronology and character. From here I sketch out the basic building blocks and tipping points of the story. These may change but at least it’s a starting point.

He always tries to talk to people in places where events in his writing take place because he feels it helps to paint a picture of the setting and reminds the people he is interviewing where they were physically when certain key events happened. I feel this is excellent advice and if possible it is worth meeting the people you are interviewing at a set location for your book or novel. Tim explained to me how he visited all the places they wrote about in Cold Steel. He said:

If you want to set a scene in an operating theatre you need to visit one. I always visit the places I write about. If you haven’t been there or somewhere like it, how can you take your reader there?

In Cold Steel, they listed people who had helped them set up interviews in the acknowledgements and they listed all the people they had talked to and  played leading roles in the story in a section called The Players.

My advice to other writers is check and double check. Don’t believe everything people tell you!

To find more information about Tim Bouquet, his co-author Byron Ousey and their book Cold Steel, visit the website: www.coldsteelbook.com

An interview with… Carole Matthews

My Research Secrets column was launched in the national writing magazine, Writers’ Forum, in October 2008. It has been running for just over ten years. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of my column I wanted to tell you about my very first interview that launched Research Secrets.

The very first interview was with Carole Matthews who writes romantic comedy.

 

Carole Matthews’ favourite research tools in 2008 were:

  • The Little Book of Baby Names – it’s where most of her character ‘s names come from.
  • IMDB –Internet Movie Database imdb.com – which is useful for all movie related questions.
  • Amazon – to keep up with what’s coming out.

Her research tip was to go and do what you’re writing about if you can.  She had set one of her books in a library, so she did some volunteer work in her local library for a few days. She also advises if you splash out to visit somewhere take masses of photos, notes, video.  Work on the premise that you’re never likely to go back.

I always visit the area I am writing about. I have a file drawer for every area we’ve ever visited – complete with local info, hundreds of photographs (or a CD these days) and probably a video too.

For writers who want to write chick-lit, she suggested you organise a girl’s night with your best mates once a month.  Drink lots of wine.  Tell lots of stories and try not to drink so much wine that you forget all the stories in the morning.

happiness for beginners

Carole Matthew’s new book, Happiness for Beginners, is released in February 2019. To find out more about Carole Matthews and her books take a look at: www.carolematthews.com

Or follow her on Twitter at: @carolematthews

An interview with… Philip Kazan

In the November issue of Writers Forum I interviewed Philip Kazan about his research for his novel The Black Earth, based during the Greek Civil War in the run-up to WWII.

PK1

Philip explained to me how he used his family history as inspiration for the novel. He found as many eye-witness accounts as he could and pieced them together. He also found useful information in the UK and US newspaper archives.

black earth mock 1

One of his research tips for other historical writers is to find a tangible link to the period you are writing about, such as food and music. When talking about his writing process Philip said:

My practice is to write whatever I feel like writing as I build the characters and tell the story. What I’m usually left with is a huge book full of digressions that really fascinate me but are extraneous to the main thrust of the narrative. I prune reluctantly until I find the hard outline, then I become fairly ruthless. I love research and I love detail, but in the end it’s usually obvious what a reader will see as padding and what will actually advance the story.

You can read the full interview in the Nov 2018 #205 issue of Writers Forum. You can find out more about Philip Kazan and his books on his website or follow him on Twitter @pipazan