The brilliant The Weight of Souls was published yesterday, and to celebrate I am hosting its author Bryony Pearce on my blog today. Bryony has very kindly written a piece about her research; I hope you find it as interesting as I did!
Over to Bryony…
The importance of doing research
I left university with vague dreams of becoming a writer, but the feeling that I should get a proper job and earn some money.
After a year of trying to ‘find my joy’ in London by temping, doing work experience in a publishing house and toiling as a PA for a Sales and Marketing Director, I ended up in a Market Research company.
View from the London Eye, which was near my office
To my surprise I very much enjoyed the work. I was speaking to companies, discovering their problems, designing research programmes that would identify solutions, writing questionnaires, interviewing people, analysing data, writing reports and presenting back to businesses, telling them how they could make positive changes.
When I left London, I took my skills with me. I went freelance and continued to do research for small businesses for almost two years. Then I started to write.
Again, to my surprise, I found that many of the skills I had learned while working as a Research Manager were a huge help in the pursuit of my life-long dream. The brevity and clarity required in writing questionnaires and presentations lent themselves well to writing for teenagers (what I had written prior to my working life was unreadably florid), the need to be organised with work schedules, research data and deadlines helped me get my head down and plot out a novel and I found that every idea I came up with led to an awful lot of research.
Inevitably, given my research background, I am a big advocate of research. They say ‘write what you know’, but I think that could also be ‘write what you can find out about’. I make my books as realistic as possible for three reasons:
- I think books are better for accurate description, real emotion, the subtle injection of facts about a world.
- I don’t like to think of a reader being propelled out of the world I have built by a clash of their own knowledge against my depiction. For example if I decided to describe an area of London without having been there, I could easily get it completely wrong and annoy a great many people.
- I think that the more realistic the world-building is, the more creepy the fictional paranormal elements become.
The Weight of Souls is set in London and, as I lived there for six years, I put Taylor’s house near my old flat and had my old stomping ground match hers’. That way I could sound knowledgeable and provide real sensory description. However, having not been back to London for years I was concerned that changes might ruin things for me, so I made a number of trips to the capital. I had to visit the Science Museum, Angel Tube Station and the Pizza Express local to it, I had to walk down to the river by Hammersmith, I had to wander up High Street Kensington and explore some of the nice estates around it. I had to take the train to Streatham and then the bus back to Shepherds Bush so I knew the route. I took photos and I took it all in. Then I put it in my book.
My old flat in Shepherds Bush
My research went beyond the physical though; the back-story in The Weight of Souls involves Egyptian mythology, ancient curses and Victorian tomb robbers. I read about the life and death of Tutankhamen and the so-called curse on his tomb, I read myths about Anubis and his rivalry with Horus, I read accounts of expeditions into Egypt and watched a program about an archeological dig out there.
I had to research genetics to determine how the curse is passed from parent to child and find out about Gabriel’s science equipment and his injuries.
I wandered around the playroom blind-folded.
I will have missed something, it is inevitable. Despite all the research I did for Angel’s Fury (and there was a huge amount, I even downloaded the user manual for the rifle the Nazi would have used and visited a shooting range to find out what it was like to fire a rifle) one reviewer knocked me back a star because of the stars:
“I was drawn into this book straight away by the fast pace of the writing, the interesting and well drawn characters and the originality of the ideas. I did, however, find myself being brought up short by Cassie, on the school trip to Germany, sitting by her window and staring up at the Orion constellation – this isn’t visible in the northern hemisphere in the summer months, and I’m assuming the school trip took place in summer as Cassie describes seeing fields of barley and hops. This pulled me right out of the story and it took a while to get back in.”
I believe the research behind Taylor’s story makes it a better book than it would otherwise have been.
I trust that the exciting paranormal thriller that is The Weight of Souls is buoyed by the reality of the world in which it is set.
I hope you agree.
I loved The Weight of Souls, and I hope your appetite is well and truly whetted too. To get a bit more of a taster you can read an extract here.
Bryony is also running an exciting competition, the details of which can be found here. The competition is open until the 24th August 2013.
To find out more visit Bryony’s website or find her on Twitter @BryonyPearce.