Tuesday, 10 December 2013

When Does it End??? by Damian Harvey

I've written quite a few books now for Primary School aged children and so far all of them have been fiction. I just love making things up. With fiction for children I have the chance to stretch my imagination and let it wander wherever it wants without the constraints of the real world. I'm completely free... 

Ok, I'll admit that on the odd occasion I've had to look something up here and there, but that's only so I can rest in the half knowledge that the fictional world I'm writing about makes some sort of sense. For a little series of books set in the Ice Age (The Mudrusts) I wondered whether Monstrous Mammoths could have come face to face with my Human characters. I found that there were (or possibly were) Mammoths in certain parts of the world when human-like beings existed - even if some of the Mammoths weren't as huge and monstrous as they might have been. Sabre-Toothed Tigers were a bit smaller than I'd imagined too - but that was all fine by me. I'd just about satisfied my inquisitive mind enough to allow them to exist together for the purpose of my story.

For a novel I'm working on at the moment I've had to look up genetics and DNA - I probably didn't need to as the whole thing is completely made up and total nonsense, however, there's always this nagging little voice at the back of my mind that speaks up every now and then.

"Could this really happen?" asks Tarquin Woodbine from 5P, casually probing his left nostril for nourishment like an inquisitive aye-aye.

I've spoken to non-fiction (and fiction) writers in the past who have told me about the joys and obsessions of research - something I've never fully understood until now. But at the moment, as well as my fiction work, I'm busy writing a little series of non-fiction books. The books are only around 1000 - 1300 words in length, so nothing too lengthy, however, I'm finding myself sinking comfortably into a world of research.

The first book in the series is about Christopher Columbus - he famed for discovering America. (Now who would have thought it had been there all along?)

I've been interested in Columbus, and other famous explorers, since an early age so I have a little bit of knowledge about them (a dangerous thing indeed). Despite this knowledge I knew I would have to do a lot more research. I started on the internet. There's lots of valuable information to be had from the internet - from many respected and some not so respected sites. Despite reservations, Wikipedia can be a good starting place. It can give lots of little nuggets of information (all of which need checking and double checking of course).

Then it's off to the library and home with a heap of books. So many pages, chapters, paragraphs, words, facts and tit-bits of interesting information that can be included in my book.

By the end I had written thousands of words of notes which then needed to be put into some sort of context and order. I also wanted to make the text read like a story rather than a simple timeline of events so a lot of cutting and tweaking was involved.

And then there's that mountain of contradictory information that you get. His brother was called Bob - he lived in Spain. His brother was called Frank (though many called him Demetrius, or Cal for short) and he lived in Portugal... These are not facts about Columbus or his family - but you know the sort of thing I mean.

Starting the research was easy. Just a little snippet of information here... a paragraph there... a book or three to ensure that you know what you know. Then you check it all again with another source, and another, and another and...  

"Oh! I've not read that before!!!"

Researching information for a book is far easier (and harder) and far more enjoyable (and frustrating) that I ever thought it might have been. In fact, some might say that it's addictive.

The most difficult thing I've found is knowing when to stop the research and get down to the business of writing. In my limited experience,even the knowledge that most of what you research will never appear in the book doesn't make it any easier.

But that's fine by me because I can stop researching any time I like. Really I can.
Just one more Google and I'm done.

Damian Harvey


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thank you

julia jones said...

Emphathise completely - artist Willem Van der Velde provides background for relatively minor FICTIONAL character in most recent book and I've becom totally obsessed - to the point of catchimg myself wondering whether I need to learn Dutch to read original c17th docs which might mention him!