Five Research Tips from this Season’s Speakers

  1. Go Outside – Kate Mosse told us that settings and places that fascinate her are key to her writing success. Taxidermists-Daughter-mmp-217x327Whatever the weather, she stands in her setting, lets her imagination run riot and listens to the voices of those who have passed through the place before her. OK; so you may not be able to stand in exactly the right place, especially if you’re writing Sci Fi, but you get the idea – woodland in the rain, sandy beach in the wind, any stately home, castle or gallery may do and even a car park in hot sunshine. ‘See the vista through their eyes.’ Chris Cleave told us of his characters. As James Marrison suggests; a good walk is soothing when the writing gets tough.
  2. Take the Kids? – Della Galton admitted that much of her writing is driven by emotion. Children are good at provoking an emotional response in us. Yes, cinemas still have Saturday morning clubs – feel free to get emotional; the kids do. Children also have the ability to overlook the macabre in the most natural way, take weirdness in their stride and come up with the original character names. Children are valuable tickets to ‘hands on’ research and ‘behind the scenes’ glimpses that, for some reason museums don’t hand to adults.
  3. Have a nice day! – High Fantasy Author James Barclay gave us a master class in world building and battle creation in which ‘Be Realistic’ was his advice, ‘A peasant is most unlikely to defeat an experienced fighter’. ElvesBeyondtheMistsofKaturaIndividual guides dotted around historic sites or animal park keepers are only too keen to depart with their knowledge. Don’t be shy about asking them either they spend most of their time with people who don’t need to know and then you come along wanting nothing more than to hear their stories. You may not come away with a file full of research, but you’ll most likely pick up a snippet and definitely a feeling.
  4. Volunteer – ‘Put yourself in your reader’s shoes.’ said Jude Evans of Little Tiger Press. ‘Know your market.’ The Library’s annual Summer Reading Challenge plunges children’s writers right in the middle of their target market. Volunteers are needed to man the Reading Challenge desk where you will need to quiz the readers. If you don’t come away with a clear idea of the literary needs of your chosen age range then you haven’t been listening to your market.
  5. Rain stops play? – ‘You’re only really listening to the conversation when you’re not in it’ said Chris Cleave. Clare Morrall told us that dialogue is often underestimated as an aspect of bringing characters to life. WhentheFloodsCame‘Absorb the voices around you and let a hint of the waffle remain for believability’, she advises. So, buy a coffee and nurse it till its cold whilst you listen in on the conversations around you. ‘Carry out your market research.’ said Della Galton. Sit in a waiting room and read the magazines.

Turning Creative Ideas into Page-Turning Storytelling – Clare Morrall

Report by Lisa Nightingale

Clare Morrall

 

‘A novel is an enormous project taking up a vast amount of your thoughts and time.’ says Clare Morrall, Shortlisted Booker Prize writer of When the Floods Came.

Astonishing Splashes of Colour, her first book took five years to AstonishingSplashescomplete. Not because the commitment wasn’t there, more because it was. When her children were still young, Clare became a single mother, therefore writing had to fit with her life and her work. She was offered a room in a friend’s house one afternoon a week in which to write. Sometimes this time was lost to her. ‘One thing about using a room in a friend’s house – you know you have to get on!’

Clare’s starting point for each of her novels is something small, unusual and usually not obvious. The starting point for Natural Flights of the Human Mind was a thought that came to her when looking at an advert for a holiday home – What would it be like to live in a lighthouse? This grows into the novel – Why would you choose to live in a lighthouse? Why isolate yourself?NaturalFlightsoftheHumanMind

At the start of her writing process, Clare doesn’t know how her story will end. Throughout the project, she continuously is asking questions of it, the answers to which provide the action and ending. Her novel is a growing discovery and the end will not show itself until half way through.

‘We all write from within ourselves’, she says, ‘If you have a story to tell; build a fictional world around it. But beware, it can become obvious when a writer has based their story on themselves’.

A reader needs to be able to identify with their characters. Having sympathy for a character isn’t the same as liking them. A writer needs to ask ‘Why’. No one knows the background to anyone else’s actions. Why does the baddy do what they do?

Dialogue is often underestimated as an aspect of bringing your characters to life. The AftertheBombingway the character speaks identifies them. Writers need to be wary of the danger of all their characters sounding the same. When writing After the Bombing, Clare read many war time reports in order to gain an awareness of how people of that era spoke. For WhentheFloodsCameWhen the Floods Came which is set in the future, she studied the history of speech which brought to light the way old sayings resurface over the years.

Plot moves the story along and the narrative arc certainly helps here. However, to over plan can make a writer’s life boring.

Action is also necessary and the trick is to interweave it as the story progresses.

Structure, like plot is more of a feeling. Try physically holding a book; your hands can feel where you are; you will be able to think ‘I’ve come to the bit when something’s going to happen.’

Once she has started on a novel, Clare sticks with it. No, she never rewrites the start. She may edit and move sections, but never completely rewrites it.