We went on holiday to Ireland this year. We generally do.
On the way back we broke our journey at a hotel in Northern Ireland. We had to get through London/Derry to get to this place and I phoned ahead once we had gone through the-city-with-two-names to let them know when to expect us.
I’m neither a republican nor a unionist really. I’m just grateful that the bombs have mainly stopped. I know some people would argue with this, but in my head, I’m pretty neutral. Except … the catholics just seem to be harder done by.
You know the English weakness for an underdog. Not forgetting all that post-imperial guilt. Kneejerk bleeding-heart liberalism, really.
This is pretty lazy and indefensible. I really shouldn’t think like that. It’s just ignorant. I can only apologise to all sides.
All this is to explain why, when I phoned the hotel, which, I repeat, is in the British bit, I decided, as we drove past hundreds of union flags, to ask the receptionist how long it would take me to get to her from ‘Derry’. First she pretended not to hear, twice, in hopes I would correct my error.
Then she pointedly said: ‘Do you mean Londonderry?’
It’s this kind of small drama that feeds my fear of writing about things and places and people of which I know little. We’ve been going to the West Coast of Ireland for almost 20 years and still, I’ make this basic faux pas. But I know that I could research forever and a day and not feel qualified, entitled, to discuss this stuff. Not in print.
I looked for some help online and found Kate Mosse’s website (katemosse.co.uk) which is packed with advice for tyro-writers. She says:
The depth of your research will depend on the importance of the theme in your story. Generally, it’s probably enough to be capable of sustaining an intelligent conversation on the subject. If your plot turns on some esoteric detail which only deep knowledge could provide, then you’re in a different ball park.
In my novel, Labyrinth, I have areas of knowledge – basically things like the actual factual history of Carcassone and Chartres or deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs – which I have had to study in depth. Other aspects I have touched on more lightly.
I’d love some feedback on this. The novel I am currently tossing about in my head is partly about ancient things in strange, dusty places.
And no, it’s not a memoir.