I don’t think it occurred to me not to research for any of my novels. For them to come alive for my readers I needed the world that my characters lived in to be believable; to be real. How could I write Pattern of Shadows, a story set during the war, if I didn’t know what it was like to live with the hardship, the fear, even the attitude of the great British “stiff upper lip” and the determination to live life to the full against the background of a World War? Or portray realistic characters unless they were shown to exist in an authentic, convincing world of rationing and “make do” that was Britain in the nineteen fifties; the background of the sequel, Changing Patterns.
So, when I set out to write this last book of the trilogy, Living in the Shadows, I started with a whole raft of research under my belt that had taken me months to collect and study.
Set in 1969, the background for Living in the Shadows, had a particular fascination for me. I grew up in a small village in the Pennines; well away from the excitement and razzmatazz that the sixties brought; the music of the Beatles, the fashions and lifestyles of Twiggy, Mary Quant, Jean Shrimpton, Mods and Rockers, and the concept of the culture of “free love”, brought about by the emergence of Hippies. It was a world I viewed from a distance. In a household where newspapers were banned and televisions came and went back to Radio Rentals at the drop of a hat and on my father’s whim, I only read about these things in covertly bought magazines. It was some years before it all became a reality for me. 1969 to be exact!
Consequently researching for Living in the Shadows was as time consuming and absorbing as it was for the first two books.
To imagine the places that my characters move between, I made maps of both Ashford, the Lancashire town, and Llamroth, the Pembrokeshire village. Each location is complete with street names, pubs, churches and parks. Ashford also has the railways, the canal and the Granville; the Prisoner of War camp that is, in one way or another, the backdrop of all three novels. By pinning the maps on the notice board in my study, I can see each scene in my mind.
I also have files for all three novels, sub divided into various topics such as: World News, Politics, Laws, Current Culture, Money, Fashions (for men and women), Hairstyles, Houses (in this I include household equipment/ styles/ furniture etc.), Food, Education, Shops, Entertainment (cinema films, dances etc.), Transport, Children, Toys, Names.
I think names are so important; think of characters called Bertha or Hilda and then one of Kylie – conjures up a whole new image doesn’t it?
And talking of images, I’ve collected photographs from every era I’ve written about. Having a picture of a street, a house, or a fashion, makes it simpler to describe every time. A detail here, a feature there, all add to the realism of a setting, of an event.
It’s beguiling stuff, this research. And that’s the danger; sometimes, before I realise it, I’ve spent hours, drifting from one enthralling area of study to another.
My books are family sagas. I like to think of them as life stories; they cross other genres: crime fiction, romance, historical fiction. Whatever they are, they’ve needed research. Taken as stand-alone books or as the trilogy, I always know when I've done enough research to bring my characters to life in their setting. And it’s only then that I start to write.
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