Tag Archives: history

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?


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