Friday 30 April 2021

Importance of Research - How does an alligator swim? By Tamsin Cooke

How does an alligator swim? Does it use its legs, legs and tail, or tail only?

A few years ago, I was working on Mission Gone Wild, the second book in my Scarlet Files series. I'd written the first draft, and there were quite a few scenes where my main character transforms into an alligator. I had her swimming through rivers ... using her legs. A kind of doggy paddle. Some of you might be saying, 'Oh! So that's how an alligator swims.' Others of you might be groaning, saying, 'Are you freaking serious?'

Later that summer, I was very lucky because I visited the Everglades in Florida. It's a majestic subtropical wetland full of saw-grass prairies, fresh-water rivers, estuaries and mangrove swamps.  I wanted to make the book come alive for my readers, adding rich details, so they could feel like they're really there. I wanted readers to be able to appreciate the wind and spray when you ride on a hovercraft, hear the insects at night, and feel the tingle of ice cold water when you dip your toes into the river.  And what better way to really appreciate how these things feel than to experience them? Although I will admit that I did not dip my toes in any rivers. Alligators are rife there, and while they'll leave you alone above land, you're fair game below it! 

I fully immersed myself in the Anhinga Trail, a place known for spotting alligators in the wild. There are pathways and jungles where they stroll out in front of you. There are boardwalks that stretch over narrow rivers so you can watch them swim directly beneath. 

I was standing on a bridge, when my heart stopped. An alligator glided gracefully towards me, its tail swaying from side to side, its limbs floating behind. There was no frantic paddling. It was smooth and menacing. I felt very honoured to be able to see such beautiful prehistoric creatures so close up. 

As soon as I got back to England, I rewrote certain sections. Scar, my main character, now glided through the water when in alligator form. Even though it was fantasy, I was making my story realistic. If I hadn't, I'm sure someone would have felt cheated that I hadn't done my homework, that I hadn't made the book believeable. 

Research is incredibly important and luckily it's so much fun. And it doesn't need to be so far from home. I  dipped my bare toes in the stream that meanders through my village. The water was icy cold, but at least my toes weren't alligator lunch!

Tamsin Cooke
Author of The Scarlet Files Series and Stunt Double Series
Twitter: @TamsinCooke1 


Nick Garlick said...

Lovely post and I agree with every single word about research. I just wish I could like it as much as you. I *know* it's important, but for me it's like doing laps in a swimming pool full of treacle.

Becca McCallum said...

Great post. I love doing research, although sometimes it can make my search history look a bit questionable! (how to fire a gun, what gunshot wounds look like, how to deal with gunshot wounds...)