All in the name of ‘Research’

“Do you fancy coming on a girlie trip to Harrogate?” I asked my mum.

“Yes, but we’ll have to bring your dad, he won’t cope at home on his own.”


The accommodation’s booked, my parents have insured me on their car so they can enjoy chauffeur driven luxury from Gloucestershire to Yorkshire, the fridge is stocked with everything my husband and three children could possibly desire in my absence and tomorrow we’re off!

But it’s not just an excuse to spend two nights away from feverish temperatures – the children are all suffering with end-of-term-fatigue at the moment – and snotty noses.  Promise.  There is a point, it’s all in the name of research…

Those of you who follow my blog will know I’m currently rewriting my first novel.  I centres around a fictional village between Harrogate and York but with the main thread of the story running through a family run estate agents there’s quite of bit of visiting places and properties in Harrogate and York.

When I submitted my original manuscript to the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers’ Scheme last year I was very touched by the kind comments my anonymous critique made about my setting which basically said I was on the right lines and gave a full picture of where the characters were at all times without overdoing it *glows*.  But…  I’ve changed some of the story, added new threads in and my more defined story structure (I hope) means places I’ve haven’t visited which to a reader who knows them well would expect to map out the geography in their mind.  And if my description is nothing like it then well…  It would have been so much easier to have set my story in the Cotswolds.

Although, then I couldn’t justify a long weekend away *winks*

So I’ve trawled through my post-it notes, made notes of all the places my characters frequent, marked on my streetmaps where I need to go and made-up some sheets so I can go and experience being my characters for a couple of days.  I’ve packed my camera so I can take some memories home with me too and my mother – in the name of reasearch again, of course – has been researching all the best restaurants that we, as real people, need to experience.  It’s a good thing my heroine likes shopping too…


Betty's Tea Rooms in Harrogate - First on my list of experiences!

But having said all that, I’m still quite panicky that I’m missing something crucial – that I’m going all that way to experience the local area, research finer details and I don’t want to find I should have done or something extra (like talk to local people?) that’s not on my list of things to do.  So…

How do you go about researching for your writing?  Any little tips you’d like to impart me with?  Answers in the comments post below please & I’ll find an enticingly nice box of chocs to send to the best ‘advisor’ upon my return – Thank you!

“You never know,” says mum on the phone last night, “we might bump into Sean Bean!”

“Yes mum,” I said, “that’s highly likely when he’s from Sheffield which we’re not visiting and the last I heard he lives in North London.”

Secretly I cross my fingers and pray dreams can come true…

PS – this is the first time I’ve been away with my parents on my own since I was eighteen when I stood on the quay in Torbay and screamed at the top of my voice, “I am never going on holiday with you two on my own EVER AGAIN!”  I did relent on this, I’ve been on plenty of trips away with them, my husband and children but this is the first one with just the three of us in thirteen years.  Watch this space…


19 thoughts on “All in the name of ‘Research’

  1. A visit to Betty’s is absolutely critical. Glad you managed it!

    Seriously, have you popped into the Tourist Information places in Harrogate or York? They’d have not only the obvious National Trust stuff but all the local attractions’ home-made and locally-printed leaflets, and notices about markets, classes, talks and so on. These often give more of a feeling for what it’s like to live there – and the sort of stuff people specifically associate with the area – than just looking online or going for a weekend.

    Hope it goes well!


  2. I struggle with the ‘talk to local people’ thing too. How are you supposed to a) strike up conversations with total strangers b) persuade them to relax enough to drop some ‘colour’ into their chat? My ulterior motive makes me shifty, and them suspicious. My mum is good at it, though, so next time I might follow your lead and take her with me!

    Enjoy your trip.


  3. You could pretend that you are moving to the area and ask a local school for a tour and enrollment procedures. Ask the head where the local hotspots are for families…whats on where to go etc what locals enjoy doing with kids. You may not have kids in novel but could add local knowledge and colour?…why am I answering can’t even get on with my own novel!! Sorry Lisa! Have a lovely time away looking forward to hearing all about it.


  4. In addition to the suggestions by the others who’ve commented, why don’t you pop into the local library ( assuming that it hasn’t been closed down!) and have a chat to the people there. If it’s a large library, there’ll be a designated reference section, and I’m sure that the librarians would welcome the chance to talk about their area.

    What about a local drop-in centre? You may well come upon people who’ve lived in the area for many years, and who are only too happy to answer your questions about it.

    Charity shop employees also tend to live in the area, and to have done so for a while. They could be a good source of local information.

    The RNA members in the area might also be able to help. If you know exactly where you’re going to be, and when, then you could post a message on romna, saying the sort of thing you are looking for and then asking if anyone can meet up.

    Obviously, the internet is a great resource. It will tell you, for example, if there are markets on in the area on the days that you are visiting, and you would be able to go to the markets, if they were what you were researching.

    The internet would also point you to specialist shops and craft centres, if they were what you wanted.

    Look for a co-op. Ours always has a queue to the back of the shop, and the spirit of the blitz invariably prevails, with everyone introducing themselves to the person who is taking root next to them, and thence to the wider community!

    Good luck!

    Liz X


  5. I did exactly the same with the setting for my last book. It was anarea I already knew but you forget the details, don’t you? So I went armed with camera and notebook and timed how far it was from place to place etc. and walked the routes my characters would take. My book was set in 1665 however, so I did have to make leaps of faith based on smidgeons of information as to what it would have been like then. The local tourist/history centre was very helful to me – proving me maps and leaflets of what the are was like in olden times.
    Good luck with it all


  6. Bartenders. Struck up a lovely conversation with one in Las Vegas. Taxi drivers, too.

    Otherwise, for places I’m not visiting in person, I go online. I LOVE Google Streetview for getting a flavour of somewhere–I currently have tabs open all over my browser for various locations in the book I’m finishing up. And Twitter is an amazing resource: just ask f’rinstance, “What are the best nightspots in York for 20-somethings?” and I guarantee someone will give you an answer!


  7. I would do some day to day things that your characters would do – do the route they take as part of the plot.

    Also, I’d notice where the traffic is bad, or where a load of teenagers are hanging out.

    Little details rather than big. I’m just an amateur at all this but I think as long as you avoid howlers (eg turning left at the library to go to the railway station when actually it’s right), it’s most important to get a spirit and flavour of the place rather than details: eg the spirit of Montpelier is very different to some of the other less frou frou areas of Cheltenham!

    I’d also be aware of mentioning real places as they could close before publication! (eg HMV, Waterstones etc sadly). Use a detail about something likely to be there long term – historic places etc.

    I’d also say don’t worry if you run out of time, or can’t get to an area. There’s always Right Move etc to find inspiring pictures of houses in actual streets if you can’t get there!

    Re chatting to strangers, what do you have to lose? I think many people would be chuffed if a nice young lady who is also a ‘writer’ asked them something. A big smile and look interested – they’ll love it!

    Fingers crossed the lovely Sean will also be there on a weekend away!



  8. Just remembered – THE most useful piece of writing I found online about my setting was on, a review of the ‘experience’ of visiting/living/growing up there. Personal, funny and full of ‘colour,’ though I don’t know how many reviews of this calibre there are for other places!


  9. Tourist information – good plan! I like your idea of knowing what if feels like to live there, I shall take that on board, thank you! xx


  10. Oh what a good idea, my dad can strike up a conversation with anyone… I shall get him on the case, thank you! xx


  11. Yes Elley get on with your own novel! But, yes, thank you for your suggestion, I’m getting the notion from everyone I need to feel what my characters would feel living in their setting, not just what the scenery is like, fingers crossed I’ll get into the groove! xx


  12. Liz, thank you so much for your lengthy & informative reply! Such good advice, I have down to visit both libraries in both York & Harrogate as one of my storylines is to do with a character researching her family tree in search of an estranged relative and as you say, such community-based place to kick the research off from. Really like the idea of using local RNA members too – when I get back I’ll get onto that… when I finally figure out ROMNA I might get to use it to my advantage – I’m such a technophobe! Thank you again xxx


  13. Thank you AJ! Such wonderful ideas, yes I’m an advocate of Rightmove too! I think you must have been inside my head this morning as I’ve just typed out a checklist including to note traffic, pedestrians & I think you’re so right, the little details can make all the difference. I’ll let you know how I get on and thank you again! xx


  14. That’s really helpful Jo, I shall go and have a look now, seeing a place through somebody else’s eyes can be very useful – thank you! xx


  15. Sooo many helpful replies thank you! As they’re all useful I’m putting everyone’s name in a pot & I’ll do a grand draw when I get back… chocolates from Harrogate it is!


  16. Thanks Kate, yes I’m an advocate of Google Streetview too… I shall get onto the Twitter thing now! And how awful, having to strike up a conversation with a bar tender… only problem being I’ll have hawk-eyed mother in tow! Thanks again! xx


  17. Oh thank you so much Pat, that’s a good idea – timing how long it takes to get places! I shall definitely add this to my research list – thanks for the advice! xx


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