Category Archives: Research Secrets

An interview with… Penny Joelson

My Research Secrets slot in Writers’ Forum features YA writer, Penny Joelson. She explained how she wove personal experience and research into her YA novel, Girl in the Window.

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The book is about a teenage girl called Kasia, who has ME so spends most of her time staring out the bedroom window. Nothing ever happens on Kasia’s street so when she sees what looks like a kidnapping, she’s not sure whether she can believe her own eyes. she notices a girl in the window opposite and hopes she saw something too but when Kasia goes to find her she is told there is no girl.

In the feature you can see a copy of the interview that Penny used as part of her research to gain a young teenage perspective of ME.

I prepared a survey with open questions and an option to add further information. I was overwhelmed with the response and the moving stories I read.

Penny explained that while some research needs to be done before writing, she prefers to write a first draft and then do more research, check facts and add details. This stops her from info dumping and the feeling she must include everything she discovered.

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You can read the full interview in the Feb 2019 #208 issue of Writers Forum. You can find out more about Penny Joelson and her books on her website: www.pennyjoelson.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @pennyjoelson

An interview with… Savita Kalhan

Savita Kalhan’s latest novel The Girl in the Broken Mirror published by Troika Books and nominated for the Carnegie Medal 2019 is the story of Jay, a 15-year-old British Asian girl who is raped. Savita told me all about the resources and techniques she used to research this YA novel for my Research Secrets column in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum.

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Savita explained:

Sadly, as the #metoo and #timesup movements have illustrated in recent times, the incidence of sexual assault is much more prevalent than once thought, and stories of survivors have been publicly accessible. I drew on these experiences of survivors when I was writing this book. I also talked directly, and in confidence, to women who have been sexually assaulted about their experiences and how they dealt with them. I also spoke to friends and relatives of victims.

Savita does not have a set pattern for her research but her tip to other writers is even though you can get caught up in your research and you may feel you have wasted your time it is better to know far more about the themes and subject of your book than to know less. But the best tip she was ever given was:

The best writing tip I was ever given was to sit down and write, and then read, edit, fact-check, and rewrite, because that’s what writing is all about.

You can read Savita Kalhan’s Research Secrets feature in the January issue #207 of Writers Forum.

You can find out more about Savita and her books on her website www.savitakalhan.com

Or follow her on Twitter @savitakalhan

 

 

An interview with… Jon Mayhew

Featured in my Research Secrets column this December is YA writer Jon Mayhew. He told me about the research that went into writing his supernatural adventure, Mortlock.

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His initial idea came from a school production of Oliver.

I was watching the scene in which Oliver is ‘sold’ to Mr Sowerberry the undertaker and the phrase ‘undertaker’s mute’ was used. The idea of a child trudging behind funeral carriages all day intrigued me and I began to wonder what would happen if that child found that he could wake the dead. Alfie Wiggins was born and so the story began.

He spent time researching the streets of the Seven Dials in London to observe the Victorian architecture and recreate the atmosphere in his novel. A trip to Bamburgh Castle where he had the opportunity to view a funeral carriage, the Dee estuary and childhood memories of Liverpool all helped to create a realistic and evocative Victorian London backdrop.

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His publisher, Bloomsbury needed Jon to check all the extracts from traditional ballads that preface each chapter were out of copyright. Even though Jon is well-versed in traditional music he was able to check the songs were in the public domain with a trip to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library in London.

Jon’s advice to other writers is to enjoy your research but enjoy your writing more and don’t let any of those fiddly details get in the way of a good story. He said:

The research is important because it does give the book a sense of realism and it is easier to visualise characters and settings. I like to think of the research used in a book as the tip of an iceberg. Only a little of the research is actually relayed in the book but it’s there, lurking beneath the surface.

This particular interview was first published in Writers Forum in May 2010. You can read the full interview in the Dec 2018 #206 issue of Writers Forum.

You can find out more about Jon Mayhew and his books on his website: www.jonmayhew.co.uk of follow him on Twitter @MayhewJ 

An interview with… Miriam Halahmy

In May 2016, I interviewed Miriam Halahmy for the Papers Pens Poets blog – the place where writers and illustrators come together to share their love of stationery.

Miriam

Miriam explained she always writes in pen because she worries pencil will rub out and she’ll lose something important. She prefers fibre tip pens and the Muji range are her favourite. Miriam told me:

I usually write in black or blue but sometimes I enjoy writing in green or purple. The pen has to flow easily for me and have a reasonable grip.

Miriam also likes small, lined notebooks and insists the lines can’t be too far apart. She  starts a new notebook for each novel. One of her favourite gifts is a fancy notebooks with heavy cover. She uses them as diaries when she is on holiday.

She uses a lot of plastic folders and plastic pockets to keep things in order during her writing process.

I need files for my filing cabinet to keep things in some kind of order, but when I’m working away my desk literally becomes a rising mound of books, papers, slippery slidy plastic pockets, and pens which have been discarded.

You can read the whole Papers Pens Poets interview here.

Miriam COVER HIGH RESWhen I interviewed Miriam for the blog she had just launched The Emergency Zoo, a novel which  focuses on a little known fact that during WWII there was a huge culling of the pets. Her book asks:

When war breaks out, who will save the animals?

In The Emergency Zoo the children spirit their pets away from the grownups and even end up caring for a baby cobra.

Hidden book cover

I have also previously interviewed Miriam for my columns in the national writing magazine, Writers’ Forum. The first time was in 2011 about her research secrets for her first novel Hidden, which is about racial bullying and set on Hayling Island. Hidden, has been the Sunday Times Children’s Book of the Week and was nominated for the Carnegie Medal in 2016.

 

Miriam told me how her Hayling archive fills a whole bookshelf at home in her study. She also said she found lots of interesting snippets of inspiration by talking to the local sailors, coastguards and lifeboat men. This also helped to develop her understanding of the beaches, tides, currents and waters around Hayling.

I have swum in the sea in summer and winter and paddled in all seasons and I have walked all over the Island, taking photos, writing notes and talking to anyone who has a moment, from birdwatchers to houseboat owners, to teenagers in the skate park near the funfair.

In the April 2018 issue of Writers’ Forum, I interviewed Miriam for my Writing 4 Children column and she told me how her YA novel, Hidden, has been adapted for the stage by playwright Vickie Donoghue.

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Find out more about Miriam on her website: www.miriamhalahmy.com Facebook author page : Miriam Halahmy – Writer and Twitter: @miriamhalahmy

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.

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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.

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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.

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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