Writing

The Fact of the Matter – The Importance of Research

As a reader, for me a book is a walk in someone else’s shoes and a whole new world I wouldn’t otherwise experience. On this journey, I especially like to learn about places I’ve never visited, careers, police procedures, and, most of all, realistic human behaviour, and I need to trust the author to get their facts straight.

As a writer I spend a lot of time researching all sorts of random details for my books and will home in on minute details to ensure accuracy. I don’t necessarily include everything I learn in the story, because that would be boring, but once I have a good understanding of the subject I can write with confidence.

As an example, in Here She Lies I included a scene with police dogs so went onto the internet and read all about a day in the life of a dog handler, and twitter feeds about police dogs in Perth, Scotland. I love the fact that they are called PD Bruno or T/PD Shark (T/PD stands for trainee police dog) so even get their own official rank and title. The tweets are humorous with hashtags such as #TheNoseKnows and #OneForTheJail. Someone asked, ‘Can you touch a police dog? And the reply was, ‘You can, but you have to ask. Because they are trained from birth to obey’ said the officer. ‘Also, they’re technically cops, so it’s inappropriate to scratch a cop on the head.’ Priceless.

When Sarah in Blood Loss researched her family online I had to made sure the websites I described actually exist and that the information is there to be found. I went onto specific websites to look at bar cocktail menus, elephant sanctuaries and whether courier services carried cash.

As well as researching subjects thoroughly, I also visit Google Maps and drop the little yellow man onto the streets and lanes so that I can ‘drive’ around and study the area. I scan the towns and countryside and I’ve even chosen buildings to describe in my story to add authenticity.

The internet alone is not enough for me, so I attend numerous short courses and read books on the craft of writing. I once spent a whole weekend – and it really was a whole weekend, from 6pm Friday to 10pm Sunday – on an online Crime Scene Investigation course with Graham Bartlett. The guest speakers were a crime scene forensics officer and a behaviour analyst along with well-known authors describing their approaches to writing. I also attend writing festivals, both in person and online.

I spend a lot of time reading and am accruing a collection of interesting non-fiction books – Blood Spatters, Deadly Doses Guide to Poisons and the Emotional Thesaurus to name a few. I watch The Real CSI, documentaries on drug dealing, popular detective dramas and real-life investigations as they all equip me with useful knowledge and feed my imagination.

My thirty-eight years in the field of social work and disabilities gives me a strong foundation of training, experience, and anecdotes to build my plots and characters upon. It has also enhanced my ability to see the world through other people’s eyes and find the positives in their personalities. I aim to create characters with many facets to their nature and am thrilled when reviewers write comments such as:  

  • Clearly the author did a lot of research and the characters had real depth.        
  • Hauntingly accurate and heart-rending
  • Another well-written and carefully researched book
  • This is so well-researched and authentic you really feel for the characters
  • All social workers should read this book. The content is accurate and well-researched.
Cordoned crime scene featuring British police vehicles

As well as drawing on my own professional experiences I seek the advice of Graham Bartlett, a retired police commissioner, to ensure all police procedures are factual and correct.

When I finish a book, I feel able to say to my readers – ‘Trust me, I’m a writer who won’t let you down.’

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