As beginner-writers we are encouraged to write about what we know. That’s sound advice. I took it and started a series of books on paganism, and magical realism in all its forms. All the women in my Scots/Irish side of the family are reportedly witches, and from an early age I took a deep interest in religions, ancient and modern. By the time I was nine I could read and write Norse runes. I’d been taken to Synagogue with my father’s family, to the mosque with Moslem neighbours and experienced every form of Christianity there is.
It was no problem, therefore, to write on the subject of a new world where the existing religions had been banned and paganism ruled. Research? None needed. I had mixed with every kind of pagan in my adult life, including becoming a Wiccan High Priestess myself, before pursuing a solo shamanic, healer path.
So why change?
As well as having a rather limited attention span, I love murder mysteries. I don’t watch much television but when I do, there will be gore and guesswork. I’m becoming such a reasonable amateur pathologist that my husband is beginning to look over his shoulder when I’m handling sharp objects or cooking.
It made sense, then, to change genres. However, although both my parents were police officers, I have no knowledge of the criminal classes. Sifting through my chequered past I came up with the other things I knew intimately. Military life or veterinary surgeon? I did not like the idea of making a killer vet so I decided to dredge up my Air Force memories. My husband having over twenty years’ service in the Royal Navy we pooled resources and split the difference, making the background the British Army. We had both had dealings with the Army as well so we had the basis of an idea before I began. I chose the Military Police as I had nearly been head-hunted by them while on a visit to an Army base.
I am a stickler for detail. If I read a book where someone has made a glaring mistake which could have easily been researched on-line, I blow a fuse. I live in France, so characters travelling from Lyon to Nice in two hours without a helicopter drove me mad. Two minutes on Google could have put that right. Never ever write thinking “nobody will notice” because, believe me, they will. If I were to include an apiarist in one of my novels, I’d ask my pal who keeps bees to make sure I wasn’t getting it wrong. Whatever subject on which you choose to write will attract readers who know that topic. They will notice.
My researches for “Attention to Death” were geographical as the Army base I chose for my setting was in Germany. I spoke at length with a friend who was “married into” the Army and could fill me in on the norms of social niceties and customs. A word of caution here. Ask the right people. One American friend was delighted to tell me how things worked on U.S. Military bases but, on double-checking, I found that these were in no way similar to British ones.
The manuscript has now gone through my editor and is on final-edit with my publisher. I’m waiting for the Kindle copy before the release date of March 10th. You are all invited to the FaceBook launch party, a subject on which I have to do no research at all, as I have just finished preparing a presentation on the subject for my publisher’s authors. This, in itself, leads me to another point. Ask. Never be afraid to admit lack of knowledge and seek enlightenment from those more experienced. I usually find most people are flattered and pleased to be asked.
So I am an expert in research, am I? I wait to be caught out. I have done as much on this new genre, new book as I can but I know that ex-Army readers will find fault. Why? Because the way I wrote it wasn’t in their particular experience. Even my own short career in the Air Force was unusual as I was one of the very few women working in my field and had leave to go all over the place, wherever I was needed. Many ex-service people have sneered at this and they are entitled to their opinion.
In these days of internet, when one doesn’t have to trot off to the library in the rain, there is no excuse for getting things totally wrong. Be assured that there is at least one reader who will throw your book against the wall if you have your characters driving from Calais to my house in two hours.