Wednesday, 23 November 2011

It's not what you know

It’s who you know.

A couple of months back, there was a question on absolutewrite about what we (as writers) find to be the best resource. I had the impression the person who asked the question thought the answer would be the web or maybe books. My answer then is the same as it is now.

Other people.

As much information as there is online and as wonderful as books are for research, the knowledge and experience people have is invaluable to a writer. This can be the smallest detail or help with a subject the writer knows next to nothing about. For example, my story When Thatcher Became Prime Minister is set in a pub in the 1970s. I needed a bit of info that would help to make the story more authentic (it was basically about radios and music in pubs in the 70s) and the first person I thought to ask was my dad. I knew he’d have the answer; he was happy to fill me in and I ended up with an improved story simply because of getting a small detail right.

Then there’s an issue which comes up in my next book. I’m at the planning stages of it and know I need to do some research into A-Levels and certain qualifications required for a particular job. This isn’t a massive plot point for the book, but if I want to do it properly and not cheat the reader, then it’s up to me to get this stuff right. Having half of one A-Level, not having gone to university and never having had a job that’s close to the one in question, I’m not exactly an expert on any of those points. Fortunately, a guy I went to school with is so I asked him. His answers will help me flesh out this section of the book and give me a story again made more authentic than I could have come up with by myself.

It’s not just practical information that can be used. My wife and I were out on Saturday night with a couple of friends. For some reason, the conversation got round to spooky occurrences and my friend mentioned the bathroom in her parents’ house is always cold no matter what the outside temperature; her husband said he sometimes feels watched in their house, and my wife brought up the time she woke up in the middle of the night with the distinct impression someone was leaning over her (we’ve since moved house which I can’t decide is a shame from a horror writer’s POV). After all this, I made a joke about storing their stories up for writing at some point. The thing is it wasn’t quite a joke.

This is what I mean by people being a great resource. I have no idea if the three spooky stories will make it into my fiction or when if they do. But if I do turn them into fiction, it’ll be down to knowing that a writer’s best resource for advice, facts, help and inspiration comes from other people.

Not the internet.


  1. Spooky stories are awesome. My nan's old house was like a horror writer's dream - full of creepy happenings and weird sightings.

    I agree that asking people is usually the best way to get those little details right. I've found AW invaluable for that.

  2. Getting stories from the horse's mouth tends to give the voice a ring of authenticity.

  3. ershin - what's the address of this house? ;)

    Derek - absolutely agree. Writers can make up whatever they want but stories with some degree of basis in reality are the best stories to me.

  4. I tend to pick people's brains, too. You never know when they'll give you the perfect little detail.

  5. I tend to pick them when I'm hungry.

    Sorry. Been watching too many zombie films lately. :)