Do Your Research – Writing Tip Number Eleven

Do Your Research – Writing Tip Number Eleven applies to every writer, whether debut or established.

Writing What You Don’t Know – When You Do Your Research

A long-accepted writing tip is to “write about what you know”. Well, yes, sort of. If you’re a police officer, you might choose to set a novel on the job, drawing on your experience to create an authentic setting and describe the handling of incidents correctly. However, plenty of crime writers have never set foot in a police station and still write believable stories. It’s likely that they combine “what they know” – for example, group dynamics, team work, stressful situations – with considerable research into aspects of the law and police procedure that they don’t know about first hand.

My new novel The Roommates combines what I know of university campuses and being a fresher (from my own experience and from listening to my children’s tales) with the research I undertook for the more serious elements of the plot that required a respectful and accurate approach.

These are the sources I consulted:

Boss, Pauline. (2003). ‘Ambiguous Loss in Families of the Missing.’ Lancet. 360 Suppl. p39-40.

Clark, Julie (2011). “You’re going to drop the ball on this…”: using siblings’ stories to inform better inter-professional practice when someone goes missing. Brisbane: Griffith University.

Holmes, L. (2008). Living in Limbo: The experiences of, and impacts on, the families of missing people. London: Missing People.

Parr, H. et al. (2016). ‘Searching for missing people: Families living with ambiguous absence’ Emotion, Space and Society, 19, 66-75.

I located these articles not only through a general internet search but also by using more academic search engines like Google Scholar and the Directory of Open Access Journals.

Warning: Do Your Research but Don’t Let It Show

Research is fascinating and you might well get carried away so make sure you keep your original search aims in mind and stop when you’ve found the answers you need. Also, although you may end up with pages of useful research notes that will enable you to create authentic characters/dialogue/setting/plot, don’t be tempted to download everything you’ve learnt into your novel. Research should appear only as a light brushing in the background, not as vast chunks of info-dump swept across chapter after chapter.

My Writing News

The Roommates came out in ebook on 24 October and I’ve been enjoying a ride on the Blog Tour since then. I’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity not only of the bloggers on the tour who’ve given insightful and enthusiastic reviews, but also by the support of the many other bloggers, readers and authors who have posted their own reviews and retweeted the blog tour posts. A big thank you to all of them.

Last week I travelled to my home county of Lincolnshire for two book-related events.
Award-winning BBC Radio Humberside presenter David Burns interviewed me about my writing. I was in the Grimsby studio while David broadcast from Hull. Although I received a warm welcome from Grimsby-based producer and researcher Pam Hallett, I was apprehensive about not being able to see the interviewer. Technology isn’t my strength. However, David’s professionalism and kind questioning put me at ease. My ten minutes of airtime passed in a happy blur. (The interview is here at 2.17.58 for two more weeks.)

Later I visited my old sixth form college in Scunthorpe. I talked about a career in creative writing and held workshops on characterisation. The staff and students gave me a warm welcome. I was delighted to discover how the college had developed and to see the students’ enthusiasm for and skills in writing. Click here to see what the college said about the day.

An added bonus to my trip to Lincolnshire was finding an article about myself in the local newspaper. It’s an amazing feeling to get this home-town support.

My Latest Reads

In such a busy week, it was a special pleasure to snuggle down each evening with a good book:

The Health of Strangers by Lesley Kelly

A deadly virus rages through the streets of Edinburgh. With only twenty percent of the population immune, all large gatherings are banned and people are running scared.

The Heath Enforcement Team – a mix of seconded police officers and health promotion professionals – is tasked with tracking down people who fail to attend their compulsory health checks. A routine hunt for a defaulter becomes entwined with the confidential case of the missing daughter of a German politician.

Lesley Kelly has created a fresh and unusual spin on the detective novel, with a delightfully dysfunctional team of health-checking sleuths. A clever mix of mystery, authenticity and humour. I’ve now read the next two in the series. Reviews will follow in future blogs.

The Runaway by Ali Harper

The author takes the traditional private eye genre, gives it a feministic kicking and lobs the No Stone Unturned missing persons’ agency onto the mean streets of Leeds.

In their second outing, Jo and Lee find themselves juggling two or maybe even three cases with helping hindrance from Aunt Edie and old hack Martin.

Gritty, grumpy, gruesome. Great.

The Disappeared – the first book in the series – was my book of the year in 2018.

By Rachel Sargeant

Rachel Sargeant is the crime fiction author of The Roommates, The Good Teacher, The Perfect Neighbours and Gallipoli: Year of Love and Duty. The Perfect Neighbours is a Kindle Top Ten bestseller and has sold over 100,000 copies. Rachel won Writing Magazine’s Crime Short Story competition and has been shortlisted in various competitions including the Bristol Short Story Prize. She was born in Lincolnshire and is a graduate of Aberystwyth University. She now lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and children.

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