Research: Is it another way of not-writing?


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.

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4 comments on “Research: Is it another way of not-writing?
  1. If the research isn’t FUN then it’s generally about a subject I’m too ignorant and scared to write about anyway.
    That isn’t helpful, is it?

  2. Emily says:

    Hi! As you know, I have spent the last few years writing about water in the Middle East. IIn my experience, no matter how accurate you are, If you are writing about a sensitive issue, people will be offended. Every time I publish anything, I offend someone. No advice, other than to apologize profusely, keep writing and develop a thick skin!

    Xx Emily

  3. Tanya says:

    I wonder whether writing could be an ‘excuse’ for researching. Good brain food! I don’t see why we can’t follow our own unique line of research being as rigorous or as carefree as we want and going places that stimulate and inspire. I Make up my own rules so that I can take risks in a safe way using time constraints in the main. My work could be deeper, better executed but hey it’s what I can manage, it works for me.

    Really enjoyed the duvet idea!

  4. Rebecca says:

    I think some research is important to the writing, depending on what you are writing, but I must admit that I use just about everything and anything to put off my writing. As much as I love writing, I am a procrastinator, in a big way.

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