“You look a bit lost,” said a lady with an ash blonde bob as I stood outside Harrogate Pump Rooms trying my hardest to read my street map without it blowing away in the blustery wind. Wrapping her billowing coat tight around her and hooking her hessian bag into the crook of her arm she peered at my map and said, “Can I help you?”
The eerie thing was she could have been the mother-in-law in my novel. Only friendlier. This was just ten minutes after setting off on my first exploration of Harrogate on Thursday ‘all in the name of research’. I pretty much knew where I was going – off to Betty’s to savour the taste of a Yorkshire Fat Rascal, again all, ahem, for research – but I was taken aback at her friendly, outgoing manner. Such displays of genuine interest are less frequent here in the south.
And so my research trip continued, taking pictures, talking to locals, walking in the footsteps of my character’s, thinking about how they would go about their daily lives. I won’t bore you with all the details but I learnt a great deal about the value of actually experiencing your character’s surroundings and not just relying on past memories and the internet. Here are my top tips to make the most of a research excursion:
- The right time of year: There’s no point visiting the setting for your novel in mid-winter when you’re writing a sizzling, summer story. My story runs from January to December so, ostensibly, I should visit at different times of the year… if I could afford to! But Spring has worked out a good time me – I can see the landscape with no leaves on the trees, still a hint of winter, but blossoming trees and flowers in bloom elude to what Summer will bring.
- Preparation: It might sound obvious but I’d mapped out everywhere I wanted to look at, visit and written a series of questions to ask myself prior to the visit. The list of questions was exceptionally useful when I was sat in places like the tea rooms chatting to my parents – they made me focus.
- Use more than just your eyes: As I sat in Betty’s tea rooms it occurred to me I should be taking in more than the plush leather seating and the round marble tables. I needed to live and breathe the scene; the clink of the china, the gentle, hushed chatter, the wafting scent of egg benedict mingling with warm scones and the warm, rich Keynan coffee with the mildest bitter edge…mmmm…. I love research!
- Bring a camera: I wrote loads of notes, but I couldn’t commit everything I was experiencing to paper. I felt I needed a few visual reminders to prompt me on a dull, grey Wednesday afternoon when I’m writing a particularly evocative scene and I can’t remember what was round the corner on ‘that’ street.
- Don’t be afraid to speak up: This was a rather valuable comment from many of my lovely blog followers, so thank you to you all. I’m not one for striking up conversation but I pushed myself and found out the information I needed to know. One lady, with blue streaks in her hair – an assistant in the Whisky Shop in York – was very helpful and told me about the times of the year when there’s lulls between touristy periods. Use what you can to strike a conversation up – who would have thought I’d be able to use blue hair dye as a conversation opener?!
And keeping to my promises I popped into the shop at Betty’s and bought some rather delightful looking Langues de Chat… which I think means Chocolate Cat’s Ears?! Thank you so much to everyone who left a comment on my blog about research for your writing and I am pleased to say that the winner of the Betty’s chocolates is…
So. Jolly over. Research gathered. Nose back to the grindstone… *sigh*