Saturday, 30 May 2015

The changing face of research

I don't research much. I've always written what I know, or glossed over stuff that I didn't know.

Mostly, this is because I started writing in the dark ages (ie. Before Internet), so any research meant traipsing off to my local library, or the much larger library in Plymouth. It was a hassle, to be honest - and I was never organised enough to make notes of all the things I needed to know before I went, so after a half-hearted browse among the shelves, I'd give up and go home. Only to remember what I'd wanted to look for.

I did once learn how to count to 10 in Hungarian, because I wanted one of my characters to have a weird fact attached to them. I had to go to the big library and search through their Hungarian dictionary. I've forgotten now, though, so don't ask!

I liked the idea of research though - of having piles of old, fragrant books on my desk, of writing notes, of sipping take-out coffee from plastic cups... I'm a research romantic!

Fast forward to today. My latest character has announced herself as a lover of female blues singers... and I know nothing about them. Luckily for me, the internet - and YouTube - exists. So I have spent the last couple of days immersing myself in all things blues.





Do you enjoy research?
What's the weirdest thing you've learned through your research?
Do you have any female blues artists recommendations?


38 comments:

  1. I love research... it always gives me a new element to deepen my characters or story... It's like digging through an old treasure box... you just never know what you'll find:)

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    1. It's exactly like a treasure box, Tania! I have a feeling this story is going to need a lot more research - but some of it will involve actually going to visit some local places, so that'll be fun!

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  2. I know about a few lady blues artists: Billie Holiday (all time favourite), Bessie Smith, Lena Horne, and Etta James. I also have music by all of them and some I've read their biographies. Interesting ladies, all. I learned about them from my hubs when we first met - I wanted to know about blues and jazz singers female and male. He knew a lot, and we saw some underground old clips of the artists in their heyday. Good luck with your research!

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    1. I don't think Lena Horne as come up in my research yet, so thanks, that's a new one to look out for. Learning about music from someone who is passionate is the best way to learn!

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  3. I haven't done much research for my writing either. However, I've contemplated writing a non-fiction book = haven't picked the subject, but perhaps on lesser tier people who did something for a war effort. Or in settling an area - I admire pioneer folks. Anyway - I do remember the library and getting dizzy trying to read off the old reel machines. Aaah - good times. Enjoy the blues......good luck

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    1. Non-fiction scares me. That's far too much research for me! I have less than fond memories of the microfiche as well - although the internet was becoming more commonplace around the time I started work in the library, so I rarely had to use it.

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  4. I love research! I may know basically what has to happen in a scene or chapter, but often have great inspiration of details or setting when I spend the time to research online. We're all so lucky the net has made researching, articles about writing-craft, and access to great CPs available to us. :)

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    1. Yes, the internet has so many benefits. And many ways to procrastinate ;-)

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  5. There's a whole list of them on Wikipedia, but it's missing a couple: Koko Taylor and Bonnie Raitt. Googling them also yields Dinah Washington, Memphis Minnie, Sarah Vaughan, and LaVern Baker, among others. I'd better not include any more links or Blogger's going to say I'm spamming. My favorite of the bunch is Koko Taylor, who I've seen live a bunch of times in Chicago blues bars. She's especially good. Lots of stuff on YouTube. My favorite video is her singing "Wang Dang Doodle" with a band that inclues Hound Dog Taylor, Little Walter Jacobs, Fred Below, and Otis Spann... even Brownie McGhee makes an appearance.

    Don't want to inundate you...

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    1. Wow, there are a lot of names there I haven't come across yet. I'm not looking for anything too modern. I don't even know how important it will be in the story, but if I can listen while I write, I might invoke the character more.

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  6. I often research after I've written just to make sure I haven't made too many mistakes! As for Etta James....wow! At Last, I'd Rather go Blind - fantastic!
    Visit Keith's Ramblings!

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    1. Researching afterwards could work quite well - you wouldn't be compelled to thrust all your knowledge into the prose. Several of the singers I've been listening to have surprised me a lot.

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  7. The weirdest thing I learned through research was how someone in 1884 would have counteracted suspected arsenic poisoning. This took a lot of digging online, but eventually I found a 1903 cookbook on Google Books. (I figured that was close enough.) There was a section in the back labeled: What to Do Until the Doctor Arrives -- and it had a whole list of first aid treatment to common home injuries and accidental poisoning.

    Arsenic was used in everything from rat poison to wallpaper glue, so it was the usual suspect in a home poisoning. The cookbook said to induce vomiting with salt water, make the victim consume egg whites to coat the stomach, and if possible mix rust into water and make them swallow that. When the doctor arrived, he would be administering a ferric solution that was basically rust, too, because iron binds with arsenic.

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    1. That certainly ranks as a weird piece of research. I didn't realise the use of arsenic was so prevalent.

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  8. eh...I spent as much time researching my Vietnam era novel as I did writing it. Maybe that's why I've been stuck in paranormal/fantasy ever since, where I can make up EVERYTHING.

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    1. Lol, I understand that logic :-) Research can become addictive.

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  9. I think I'm a research romantic too, when it comes to books that is. When it comes to doing scientific research for my brother, not so much.

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    1. I can imagine some research is much more fun than others!

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  10. Ah, research! Once I'm in the mode I'm good to go. Like right now, this past week, I've been immersed in all things relating to fonts, font sizes, and font colours for my new book. The more I look, the more I find that there's a vast world of choice! Too many choices, for my liking!

    You picked a wonderful blues singer for this post too. I think it's exciting that you go to such lengths to make your characters authentic, and believable. Way to go!

    Have a happy Sunday! With smiles, Jenny :)

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    1. The choice of fonts is overwhelming - good luck!

      Normally I don't think about my characters' likes, dislikes etc - they come out as I write - but this nugget of info appeared in my first line, so I think it might be important. I've never really listened to this type of music - I'm more of a rock chick - but I'm enjoying it.

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  11. I have just tried to findout how long a person can stay unconscious after a head injury without suffering permanent brain damage. I might be writing this novel from prison!

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    1. I've done my share of dodgy searches! I'll visit you though :-)

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  12. I love to research and the internet certainly makes it much easier! I often get side-tracked though and end up finding out about all sorts of things.

    Last week we saw Marlena Shaw at Ronnie Scotts. Not sure if she would fit your bill or maybe she is more soul. Good luck with the new project.

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    1. I love going off on a tangent when I research, until I notice how long I've been tangenting for!

      I have a friend who liked the blues, and he could often be heard stating that a particular artist was 'too alive' - or words to that effect. I think my character will go down that route and only really love the artists who are no longer alive. I bet it was a good evening, though :-)

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  13. I do enjoy my research, probably because I get hung up on little details. Everything has to be *right*. But it does take up a lot of time. I'm glad I do it though. For an undergrad project I made a Celtic bestiary, hand bound it and hand written too. And if I hadn't done my research I totally would have done a bunch of celtic knot illuminations but that's post-Christian Celtic apparently.

    Is that the weirdest thing I've learned? Probably not. But I can't pin point my finger on one thing or another.

    As for blue artists....Billie Holiday is a classic. But I've never really kept up to date. Though sometimes I've seen Adele classified as R&B (rhythm and blues).

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    1. That sounds like an interesting project to take on.

      My character would definitely prefer Billie Holiday to Adele :-)

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  14. I don't really like research, but that's mainly because I have to read a lot of scholarly texts for my academic research; most of those texts are really long-winded and boring. I remember doing research before the Internet, though; I remember card catalogs and having to look at each periodical individually, rather than just finding a bunch of articles online.

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    1. You really felt you'd earned the knowledge in those days though, didn't you? :-)

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  15. Sounds fun. I think the strangest thing I've researched (that I can think of off the top of my head) was about cauterizing a wound.

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    1. I hope the research didn't contain too many pictures - ugh!!

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  16. I'm writing a thriller set in 1984 Maryland - and I haven't got a clue about the area - yet.

    My big issue is getting through the first draft and then I'll go and do some internet research :)

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    1. Too bad I don't remember more. I lived in Columbia, MD around that time as a kid. But my world was pretty small then, so I doubt I'd be able to help you much.

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  17. I learned about Nina Simone from Point of No Return.

    I love research. In fact, I love it too much. I wish I knew how to make money from pure research. I just enjoy learning new things. So I get sidetracked when I do research for a story.

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    1. I love those tangents, and sometimes you learn something that takes the story in a completely different direction - I love that too!

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  18. Hi Annalisa - having never done research for a novel ... I am realising the amount of work involved. I do check my facts as far as my common sense and logic will take me when I'm writing blog posts and if I feel out of my depth .. it gets left out.

    I have just read Claire Tomalin's book on Mary Wollstonecraft (Mary Shelley's mother) - written in 1974 - if I hadn't have been attending various talks on history and social history, and been writing my blog I'd have been lost reading the book. But what impressed me was the way she listed and annotated her book ... fascinating research added to the actual book on Wollstonecraft ...

    Interesting to read all the comments - and knowing you've now got extra information to follow up on - gosh enjoy the listening ... cheers Hilary

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    1. I imagine you do more research for your blog posts than I do for my novels, Hilary! :-)

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  19. I think this is the best thing about being a writer in this age. You can find out everything about anything with a few key strokes. I never liked research much because the things you need to find are just scattered across too many books at the time and of course you have to actually go and physically thumb through the books to find the stuff you need.

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    1. Although, there is something satisfying about tracking down a complete story from different sources. But yes, internet is a lot easier :-)

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Please comment - I love a good chat!