Friday, 9 March 2012


Paula Rawsthorne shares her experience of researching her second novel.

Of all the aspects of novel writing, research may not immediately spring to mind as being  the most enjoyable.  However, my experience of researching my new novel has been exciting, as well as being tough, emotional and thought provoking.  The process of doing my research has also had a fringe benefit of making me feel all glowy towards my fellow human beings, who have been so very kind and generous in helping me.

My novel (that I’m still busily working on), is another stand- alone thriller.  I love writing this genre because I enjoy trying to create a combination of complex, engaging characters and twisting, turning stories.   My stories require research as, even though they are fiction, I want what happens in them to be within the realms of possibility.  Also, even though I don’t specify where my novel takes place, I want my settings to feel authentic and real.   Sometimes this can involve leg work and I’ll visit a location and soak up the atmosphere (unfortunately, my story isn’t set in the Bahamas- maybe next time).

However, as you know, much research can be done without any travel or even human interaction.  Much of it is just between you and the internet, or books, or journals.  I find that even this can be exciting (or maybe I'm just over-excitable) as you uncover layer after layer of information and are sent down paths that you’d never contemplated. 

Of course, it’s very easy to get carried away with research and spend far too much time on it instead of actually writing your story.  Also, you must be careful how you use all that lovely information.  As a reader, the last thing you want to do is to plough through swathes of information in a work of fiction; so, as a writer, you have to make sure that what you include is essential to the narrative and is weaved into the action.  You may have spent ages on your research but you must be disciplined enough to know what to omit.
The kind of research I enjoy undertaking most of all is approaching experts in particular fields and  pumping them for information.

I’ve found that people have been incredibly generous with their time and gone out of their way to help me.   I’m lucky to have friends in all walks of life and they were great at providing me with facts in their areas of expertise.  Although I researched extensively for my first book, The Truth about Celia Frost, with my second book, I've felt more confident about approaching experts that I don’t know, and asking them for information.

My latest novel has involved talking to coroners, sailors, doctors, police, runners, dockers and professors in America who are experts in a field that I can’t divulge (because it will give too much away).  I’ve found it fascinating and their insider views and knowledge have been invaluable.  For instance, I’ve now seen first-hand, what happens in a coroner’s court and behind the scenes - you may be able to see this kind of thing on T.V., but there is no substitute for feeling the emotion of being there. 

I’m so grateful that all these very busy people have been so patient with my specific (and often bizarre) questions.  People have taken me through procedures, sent me academic papers, drawn me diagrams and even stood up and demonstrated things.   I told one poor expert that I needed ten minutes of his time and nearly two hours later I was still interrogating him in my kitchen! 

I can’t thank them enough for all their input and I hope that they will feel that I’ve put it to effective use in my new thriller.
So, as a writer, what aspect of research do you most enjoy?

As a reader, have you read any works of fiction were the research has blown you away or, alternatively, been overbearing?


  1. Very interesting post, Paula (and now I really want to read your next book!). I find there's a real balancing act to do with research - too much, and my story feels swamped. Maybe it's because I'm still reminding myself that I'm not wrting as a journalist.

  2. This is a great post. I LOVE doing research, particularly, finding those small details that can make all the difference to a narrative, lifting it off the page. A lot of my research won't make it in but will inform my writing. It means I can talk about something with authority.
    Can't wait to read the new book, it sounds fascinating.

  3. Research isn't my first love, but when the topic is right I can certainly get carried away with it. Like Paula, I have been constantly amazed by the generosity of others. I think most experts are flattered and excited to talk about a subject they've spent their life pursuing. I've corresponded with geologists, nuclear scientists and doctors on my next book. I even found a man and his wife who agreed to take me on a guided hike of the mountains around Las Vegas -- in 100 degree heat no less. I think talking to experts can really bring a story to life. Your questions can lead to more questions and really interesting asides that sometimes end up playing a more major role in book. Good luck on your book, Paula!