Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Research - why bother? Lynn Huggins - Cooper

Many of my stories are set in the past. One Boy’s War (Frances Lincoln, 2008) and Walking with Witches (Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2008) have both entailed hundreds of hours of deeply satisfying research.
With the former book, set during WW1, this included trawling through original journals, war records and secondary sources of historical records. I also visited Belgium and France to trace the steps of the boy soldier and see his resting place in a small war cemetery on farmland. With the latter, set in the 1650s, I spent weeks reading contemporary accounts of life in Newcastle as well as harrowing accounts of witch trials and executions. I found that library staff and local historians alike were generous in the extreme when they knew what I was looking for; they were keen to see the stories come to fruition. But is all this research really necessary? The books are only made up, right? Wrong actually. The stories may be fiction, but the settings – and many of the characters – were real people. I feel I would be doing them (and myself) a disservice to neglect my research, as it is the facts we bring to our stories that help to give them the ring of truth. Some of my favourite books are historic fiction, and I have learned a great deal from them in both terms of history and storytelling. If a reader is reading a story set in the past, and the facts underpinning the story are inaccurate, the world constructed by the author crumbles and the reader is yanked out of the story.
Readers offer us a great compliment when they choose to read our books and enter our worlds. They will suspend their disbelief only for as long as our stories captivate them. Methodical research helps to create a multi-faceted, believable story – and it’s fun! I even surround myself with objects that relate to my chosen time period to help me. For Walking with Witches, I have a fragment of a Seventeenth Century signet ring, for example – and somehow, holding this helps me to connect with my story. I’ve read a lot of manuscripts and books about the period, and the treatment of witches – or those accused of being witches. I’ve enjoyed it so much, and it’s given me so many ideas, I think I feel another book coming on...

1 comment:

Linda Aksomitis said...

I also write historical fiction and agree entirely! The worlds we create in fiction must be real ones for our characters -- and our readers. Historical fiction only comes to life for the reader when he or she finds those tiny details of everyday living that speak to their lives.