I’m doing research at the moment for a new book, and since it’s been a while since I’ve started something completely new, I’m revelling in the possibilities. I have a stack of non-fiction hardbacks with pretty covers and thousands of pages – in this case, some of my favourites that I’ve been accumulating for years, and whose subject matters are finally connecting and coming front and centre. I have a new notebook – A4, with a pale blue cover with gold and pink birds and patterns on, £1 off in Smiths yesterday. I have a stack of biros, post it notes and highlighters. And now, I also have more ideas than I know what to do with.
This is where the danger part of the title comes in.
Within the first hundred pages of my research, I have more books germinating than I could ever hope to write. Stories ranging from the present day all the way back to the Stone Age.
The problem is, I’m genuinely interested in my subject, and when I’m interested in something, I can’t help but make up stories about it.
Today, for instance, I’m reading about English villages – how they evolved, how they got their names, how they developed, how they were affected or created by the Roman, Anglo Saxon, Viking and Norman invasions. And right there, that’s about ten books worth of stories. The stuff I’m learning today is mere background for the contemporary romance (with a hint of magic) I hope to write later this year. Important background, given the story, but most of the information will never make it into the finished book – at least, not if I don’t want to bore my reader to death. I know not everybody cares about this stuff the way I do.
But what it is doing is sparking ideas for characters, scenes, motivations and conflict. It’s giving me glimpses of thoughts that will make up the details of the novel – the ones that (if I do it right) make my world somewhere real to the reader. Somewhere they’d like to visit, even live.
As long as I don’t get sidetracked by that story seed of the young bronze age girl in her roundhouse and the visiting traveller who brings copper to the village. Or go curl up and read Anya Seton’s ‘Avalon’ again.
So, tell me. How do you set about your research? And how do you stop yourself from getting carried away?