Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Researching my books

I kid myself that I only write from my own experience but, as my wife frequently complains, I more often write from hers.

She also complains that from the evidence of my writing I seem to have understood so much but from the evidence of my life I am almost clueless.

As they say, “It is not so much that married men make more mistakes – it is more that they find out about them quicker”.

In writing, it is the small details that bug me the most. How did anyone write novels before the Internet?

I am sitting here thinking that my character is just about to down some street drug or another. Not taking drugs personally, which one is that character in that situation in that country most likely to be taking and what are its effects? Fifteen minutes tops on the Internet will give me some strong clues. Twenty years ago, I don’t know what I would have done.

Which is maybe why I did not write novels twenty years ago. I wanted to, but I realised that I had not lived enough of a life yet and that the research would be too time-consuming and complex.

Much of the background to my stories I have already lived, or rather my wife has already lived.

“Blood & Marriage” is based on family stories – I merely re-told them and guessed my way into the gaps. “Little Fingers!” was written because I realised I knew a paedophile and, more shockingly intriguing in some ways, I encountered at first hand his close relations’ strong desire to wish his callousness away. “Girl on a Bar Stool” is about brand marketing – I have been a brand marketer for nearly thirty years. It is also about Christianity which was imposed on me from the age of seven. “Shade+Shadows” is about classical and alternative medicine and human rights abuses. Thanks, if that is the word, to my wife’s and elder son’s serious illnesses of ten years ago, I have experienced a great deal of alternative medicine and come to be fascinated by its resistance to ‘scientific’ proof in the face of its evident effectiveness. I also volunteered for Amnesty International for a few years, so I knew where to find the bodies. “The Ghoul Who Once” is a ghost story. I have actually (I think) seen a ghost, but I have also met a lot of people who are intensely spiritually-minded and claim to have experienced many extraordinary things. “The Dance of the Pheasodile” just turned up, but I was born in Hull, I have seen a thousand programmes about gangsters – fictional and factual – and the torture scenes are based on official US submissions to inquests into the abuse of prisoners during the Extraordinary Rendition process.

The hardest book of all to write was “Fishing, for Christians” because I have never knowingly met an angel, or God, or gods, or the Devil, so I haven’t a clue what they sound like, and probably still wouldn’t even if I were to meet any of them. As Wittgenstein observed “If a lion could speak, we wouldn’t have a clue what it was saying.” The first level of research I did was to follow much of “The Course in Miracles”. I also read up on Gnostic Christianity – Wikipedia is a great resource for that type of information – and I then crammed the mythological gods from the
Godchecker site. Strangely enough, long after I finished the book, I discovered that many of the elements I thought I had made up were actually officially endorsed by one religion or another, even down to writing the book itself as a quasi-gospel (Gnostic Christians believe that everybody should record their own gospel).

I have never met Adolf Hitler either, but I have to agree with him on one thing - “The people are more likely to believe a greater lie than a smaller one.” So, I am quite comfortable wandering off into realms that nobody knows that much about, but I have to get the details right. I even check train timetables.

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