Monday, 8 February 2010
You Know That Saying 'I Couldn't Get Arrested'?: Gillian Philip
I can’t think what to write about this month (‘can’t think what to write about’ being a near-pathological condition I really should be able to dissect in detail). So I’m just going to pass on a couple of cautionary tales about research.
I'll be honest, I don’t like research. It’s the one displacement activity – apart from cleaning the loos – that I don’t enjoy. I resent it for keeping me away from the story (whereas Facebook and Twitter: I don’t resent them for the same thing. It’s an innate laziness).
I tend to do detailed research after the fact, and not just because of idleness. The one time I did get into historical background in a big way, it was for a book with a background of the 16th century Scottish witch hunts (obligatory plug: FIREBRAND, published in August 2010 by Strident). I got so into my subject, I was so pleased with the depth of my research, that every syllable of it got shoehorned into the story, thereby bringing said story to a screeching halt. So, out it all came again. Just because I knew it, I didn’t have to inflict it on the reader. To paraphrase Russell T Davies, it doesn’t really matter why meteorites would miraculously burn in a vacuum; for the purposes of the story they JUST DO.
Sometimes, though, I have to know before I start writing that the whole plot or setting is actually going to work. Which is why I caught myself on the phone to the British Embassy in Paris one day, asking how far back it was set from the road and was it possible to drive a car up to the front door? The official was very polite in the circumstances, told me to forget it (in the nicest possible way), sent me a smart brochure about the Ambassador’s house and suggested I use that instead.
Impetuous is a Bad Thing to be, because after this experience, I should have known better. No, a few months later a plot occurred to me in all its perfect glory (as they do, hem hem). But no! What if my heroine had bodyguards? That would ruin everything.
So I got onto the net, found the phone number for the Cabinet Office, dialled without a second thought and asked a nice lady about security arrangements for the families of cabinet ministers. After about ten seconds I realised what a bad idea this was, but I didn't want to just, you know, hang up...
Well, at least I must have sounded reassuringly incompetent.
So there you go: a few ways not to handle your research. And what is my point? Well, I don’t really have one. But it’s an excuse for a picture of Richard Armitage.
(Above: Ros and Lucas marvel at the idiocy of authors, then go for a drink)