Research. . . It’s invaluable to an author if you want to get it right. . .

Town Hall Barnsley. Photo from Barnsley Town Hall website.

I was writing a dual time line novel set partly during the second world war and partly during the 1950s. For certain reasons, I decided to set the story both in a small fictional town in Yorkshire, and in a small district of North East London. My protagonist hailed from the Yorkshire town. As I am not from the north I felt I should do some research before the second draft and editing of said novel.

It was an eye opener!

I spent only three days in the town of Barnsley, in South Yorkshire. I was shown the local sights by a friend who lives there (thank you Helen) and I spent several hours in the museum, and archives department at the town hall. The visitors service assistants in the archives were absolutely fantastic. They searched out old maps, magazines, newspapers, photographs and took time and care to show me how to find the resources I needed. I wish I could have spent longer studying there. It was a joy, honestly, I loved it. Fascinating reading about other people’s lives and their memories of growing up in this town.

But. . .that’s the nub of it: Other people’s lives.

The result of my research was a massive reality check, and frankly a blow to my hitherto confidence in my ability to write about anything and everything. I realised that I had romanticised my protagonist and underestimated what my small town in Yorkshire might actually be like. The more I found out the more I saw massive plot holes in the story and flaws in my characters. I have rethought the whole thing. Even though I had written 85,000 words and now edited 20,000 of them I thought of what my son Matthew said to me a few years ago: never be afraid to put it in the bin and start again.

I realised that writing about the north/south divide with my protagonist hailing from the north and me, a writer from the south was neither ethical nor indeed possible. How could I have the audacity to try and write from her point of view?

It made me see that I should write about the things I know. There would be nothing wrong with me writing a war story set in Greater London where I was brought up. I would still have plenty of research to do but I could draw on my own family history for much of it.

Onwards I go. . . but now with a different genre, different time and different story!

Please leave a comment if you have the time, it would be appreciated. Thank you. 😊

6 thoughts on “Research. . . It’s invaluable to an author if you want to get it right. . .

  1. Happy month of February. The beginning & fresh start to your new book. Go for it!
    Don’t know whether you have read Douglas Stuart’s 2020 Booker Prize debut novel called ‘Shuggie Bain’?
    It was recommended to my husband Robert by the Owner of our local Book Shop who told him one of the best books she has ever read.
    Robert says if you’ve never read it – do so. Definitely a worthy read if you’re stuck for something to do! Just a thought. Angela

    1. Thanks Angela. I have read it, and it is very good and exactly what I’m talking about. Drawn from Douglas Stuart’s own life experiences but obviously fictional.

  2. Maybe not a ‘blow’ but a confirmation that you want your writing to be as good as you can make it. Readers can sniff out writers who only have a cursory knowledge of their subject matter. A great learning opportunity!

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