Writer's Research

One of my best friends, Martina Devlin, is writing another historical novel. Her last one, Ship of Dreams, based on fictional Titanic survivors, took her years to research (and was a huge success) and this one is no different. She spent hours in my Mum's house last week reading old family memoirs, newspaper cuttings and books on - well, I can't say as it's her book, not mine. But the point being, she spent many, many hours looking up tiny details like what a cup of tea cost in the early 20th century, and what people gave as wedding presents in those days (it was all listed in the newspapers of the day and makes fascinating reading). Most writers need to do research - even if their book is set in the present time. At the moment I am researching elephants. One of my main characters, Arietty, is an elephant keeper in Dublin zoo. No, I have no idea why, she just is. It happens sometimes - characters come into your mind pretty much fully formed.

Elephants are very interesting animals - I've read several books on them now and I've found out all kinds of things. Did you know there are 2 kinds of elephants - Asian and African, and Asian have smaller ears? Or that the family groups you see are mums and babies (and grannys and aunts)? No men. The male elephants, the bulls, live alone or in bachelor groups. I could go on and on, but I'll stop now . . .

But what I really need to know for my book is - what do elephants smell like? What do they eat in a zoo? Do they communicate with each other? What does their skin feel like? What would Arietty do every day exactly? Why does she love elephants so much?

And you can't find out things like that in a book. So I'm off to Dublin zoo tomorrow to speak to one of the elephant keepers. She's kindly taken some time out of her day to show me around and tell me about her job.

So I'll be able to go back to my desk fully elephanted up! And it will make Arietty more real and my book better. Plus I get to hang out with elephants - how cool is that?

Reseach is vital. And sometimes it rocks!

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX