Tag Archives: 1970s

The web of research

Have you ever stopped to wonder what the internet search history of a writer looks like?

As I was pootling along with my draft this week I couldn’t help but smile at the diverse directions my ongoing research is taking me in.


It’s not quite as extreme as my last novel, where the bulk of my online explorations were delving into the psychology of narcissism, manic depression and schizophrenia, not forgetting the murky world of electronic surveillance. Still, though, when writing a novel which (at least for the thirty thousand words I’ve written so far) is set in the 1970s and early 80s, it turns out there are an awful lot of gaps in my knowledge that need filling.

Most of them come from the fact that, having only been born in 1978, I have no personal experience of the little details of everyday life. Like, what were people called? What did they wear? Teenagers specifically? How did they do their make-up? Did they smoke? What did they drink at parties? What did they study for A-levels? When did they take their exams? When was the Walkman invented? What music did people listen to?

It’s all well and good talking to people who were around at the time, but I’m not just talking about general trends here – I’m talking about the specific aspects of fashion and popular culture that would have appealed to the blossoming characters I have been developing over the past few months, my two protagonists especially but the supporting cast as well.

Then there are the other details that anchor the world of my novel in time and place. The coordinates of my key locations, and the relation between them and the rise and setting of the sun (and the moon). The times of sunrise and sunset in summer, and any notable weather in between. Impossible to begin a novel in 1976 after all and not acknowledge the heatwave and the impact it had on peoples’ lives.

There was the politics too of course, and what it meant for peoples’ working days, as well as things like the prevalence of streetlights in a small seaside town.

Time and place aside, there are other things too I’ve found myself investigating to get up to speed with my characters’ interests and areas of expertise. The mechanics of butterfly stroke, for example. And the names of the different parts of a fishing boat. Not forgetting how to kill a mackerel.

It is all quite fascinating, and much as I’m trying to make sure I don’t get so completely sucked into the research that I fail to do any actual writing I can’t deny that I’m enjoying all the little bits of learning along the way. I know it doesn’t matter if not every little detail matches the facts, but if I’m having to make decisions anyway it’s nice to be helped along by the wealth of information that’s out there.

Remind me what people did before the internet again?


Writing Bubble

Weaving a world


Slowly but surely the world of my next novel is beginning to take shape…

I’ve had two really interesting research meetings so far with local people who responded to my request for information about Brixham in the 1970s. Last week I finally made it into our local museum to see some artefacts from the past. And as I walk through the streets of my town its history is beginning to become more and more apparent.

I’ve learnt about the changing face of the harbour, with working shipyards once occupying the sites of luxury flats. About the Seaman’s Boys Home which is now a flourishing outdoor education centre. About the holiday camps which saw people flocking to Brixham, enjoying diving platforms off Breakwater Beach and pedalos at St Mary’s Bay that are now long gone. My imagination was piqued today by talk of an untamed Berry Head, and of the hippies who used to attract admiring glances to their paintings by day and raise eyebrows with their skinny dipping by night.

I found interesting too the description of the local community as incredibly friendly and welcoming on one hand, and yet closed off to outsiders on the other. I can recognise that to some extent. However much I’m coming to love this place, I know I’ll never truly be able to call myself a local.

But I’m beginning to see where my two main characters might fit in here, forty years ago. Where their grandparents might have lived, where and how they might have spent their days, where they might have socialised, and where they would have escaped to when they needed some privacy. There’s still more work to be done – the local library’s my next port of call (always takes someone else to point out the bleeding obvious), and I’m going to try to fit in a visit there this week.

And then I think I’ll call it a day, for now at least. I believe there’s a fine line between not enough research and too much, and I want to get this story flowing whilst it still has space to breathe. The people I’ve spoken to so far have very kindly offered to do some fact-checking once I have a first draft to show them, and I’m sure our conversations will be able to be much more specific once I actually have a story to share.

I have to say I’ve really enjoyed my face-to-face research so far. I was nervous at first – I’m naturally quite shy, and feel much more confident seeking out information from the comfort and security of a keyboard. But there is most definitely much to be gained from talking to people, especially when the world you’re seeking access to is in the past.

I just hope I can mange to do their memories justice – and I’m very much looking forward to trying.


Muddled Manuscript


A little bit of time travel

glorious devon

As I’m muddling though with the research stage of novel number three, and characters and plot begin to swim into focus, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the scenes set forty-odd years ago are going to be both the easiest and the hardest to get right.

Easy because the young lovers I am portraying are so vivid in my mind. Every time I stop and think about them more aspects of their personalities and relationship become clear, and I have some very detailed character profiles shaping up.

But hard because the world they live in isn’t this one – and isn’t one I’ve ever experienced first hand. I know there’s nothing unique in that: plenty of novelists set their stories in times and places much more distant than 1970s Brixham. And I know I’m not writing a factual piece – I don’t need to get every little detail spot on. But I still want it to be authentic, to have the air of travelling back in time.

One discovery I’ve made this week is going to help with that. As part of a general organising spree I found a box full of letters from my past – not quite as far back as the period in which the novel is set, I think the earliest ones date from the late 80s. But still reading them through served as a valuable reminder not only of what it really feels like to be a teenager, but also the very different way in which people communicated in a world before the internet. I’m looking forward to creating snippets of my characters’ correspondence, to seeing how their relationship develops when they’re apart as well as when they’re together.

I’m also looking forward to finding a bit more out about my town. I’ve been extending my internet research this week, searching for pictures and stories from the Brixham of 1973 to 1982 (or thereabouts). Actually much of what I’ve found so far suggests that an awful lot has actually stayed the same, though I’m sure were I to ask someone who has lived through the changes they would be able to give me a far more accurate impression of the time I’m travelling to.

So that’s my next step, really: to find some people who knew Brixham in the 70s and pick their brains. If you’re reading this and you think you might be able to help then please get in touch! You can comment below, or email me on sophieblovett@gmail.com. I can’t wait to find out what I might discover…


Muddled Manuscript

Listening to the world


I’ve written before about how taking a leaf out of Arthur’s book really helps me as a writer – seeing things around me through fresh eyes, finding new perspectives and stories in the everyday. This is especially true about the stage I’m at with my third novel at the moment. It’s just beginning, there are ideas and possibilities floating around all over the place, and it’s my job to be open to them, to gather them together so I can begin to weave them into a plot.

A huge swathe of inspiration is already inside my head. My main characters set up camp in there a while ago and, it seems, have been getting to know themselves and each other whilst I’ve been busy doing other things. The girl – I don’t know her name yet – spoke to me the other night. It was about two in the morning, and she said:

I knew it was wrong, even then. Of course when I say ‘wrong’ I mean ‘considered inappropriate’. But it all is when you’re a teenager, isn’t it? Everything you breathe or think or do. So that really didn’t help me calibrate my moral compass.

I’ve finally downloaded Evernote on to my phone so her words are safely stashed away on there. Along with a photo of a bench, and a growing collection of images which capture  Brixham forty years ago.

The girl popped into my head again as I was thinking about Sara’s prompt of Smoke. She led me to a longer piece of writing then, one which taught me a surprising amount about her (and him).

I think this might be a key part of my method this time round: just writing the scenes that come into my head, before I even work the ideas into a coherent plan. These scenes might make it into the finished story, or they might not – but I love the idea of listening a little bit more closely to what my characters have to offer before trying to pigeonhole them.

The other place I’m looking for inspiration is in the past. Much of the story unfolds in the late 1970s/early 1980s. I was born in 1978, but it’s not a period I know an awful lot about and I’m finding it fascinating discovering more. My primary reference point at the moment is Crisis? What Crisis?: Britain in the 1970s by Alwyn W. Turner, and even in the opening chapters I’ve already found some historical gems which sit perfectly alongside the story that’s beginning to emerge.

And then there’s my town. It’s actually really lovely to be mulling over a tale which belongs here after the first two novels which are very firmly rooted in London. It means that every stroll or errand or minute spent gazing out of the window becomes an integral part of my research. I’m planning to formalise that soon, reaching out to local people who might be able to add to what I know of Brixham – particularly its past.

But for now I’m very happy listening to the world, both inside and outside my head, and I can’t wait to see where else it takes me.


Muddled Manuscript