I have to say I love the research, finding out what the fashions were, the adverts, the comics, the films, the architecture in a certain place, the transport. Ordnance survey maps of the area, drawn as near to the time as possible, are a godsend; you can walk down the streets, see the warehouses and railway yards. And thank goodness for the Internet – no more traipsing to the library or the Public Records office. Old documents are always available on the internet so people can read the newspapers of the time, or a letter written by a king.
Having said that, if I’ve set the story in a real place then I go and see the place, look out of the windows of the stately home, walk in the woods or the beach, cross the canal on a tiny bridge.
It’s New Year’s Day in my story now, and the records say it was cold and dry. Looking out of my own window today, it’s bleak; the sky is deep purple, and the wind is wailing – a real November day. To add to the Gothic atmosphere there’s a Blood Moon tonight. That reminds me, I must visit Ordsall Hall again next week as a lot of the action towards the end of my book is set there. Now that’s a beautiful house, and Gothic to the eaves.
Film and TV are good for my research too. I’ve just watched Rogue Heroes, a dramatization of how the SAS came into being in WW2 – now that was exciting writing. Last week I re-read Two Brothers by Ben Elton, set in Germany at the onset of the war and about two boys brought up as twin brothers by German parents. One twin was Jewish and one Aryan. What a story and based on a true one. Earlier this year I re-read Robert Harris’s Enigma and I felt as if I were there in the 1940s. His historical research is phenomenal; I learnt so much. And the latest WW2 film, Operation Mincemeat with Colin Firth featured Ian Fleming, who actually worked in Intelligence in WW2. I love Fleming’s books. Both he and Agatha Christie, another of my favourite authors, were entertaining people all through the war.
Long live stories.