Thursday, 20 September 2007

The devil’s in the details

How far back does a back story go?

The chapter I am writing is set mostly in 1948, and of course, I want it to be authentic, and my characters to be thinking, wearing, listening and eating things that are all from that period in the UK. That is research I expected to do. However, I have just spent four hours reading up about what my character’s husband would have worked as upon leaving school in 1934, when I am not even sure if I will actually touch upon this anywhere in the chapter, let alone in the main story. And the fact that her brother was killed in Dunkirk, when I don’t think I will be saying anywhere at all that she even had a brother! This is research madness! This is research Gone Wrong!

My problem is the Internet. There is so much information and none of it really answers my questions direct, so I end up clicking even deeper, getting more absorbed in rationing and cheese puddings, in the age people left school, and wartime posters. And I totally disappeared in the BBC’s People’s War website, which is a great resource but not the easiest way to find information. It would be much better if there were sub categories under the main headers, so you click on main header The Blitz, for example, and then get London, Regional, Occupations, Bombing etc. But no… that would no doubt mean you could find what you want within 10 minutes – this website wants you to stay forever!

I find myself longing for books, big weighty tomes that I could pull down off the shelf and flick through until I find what I want without having tons of internet windows open. I think it is having everything running on the same screen that drives me mad. But then again books would take just as long, maybe the real problem is I am not framing my questions accurately enough in google.

And... I do like it when my characters become real to me, as that means you can see them from all angles, so to speak, but sometimes they can take on a life of their own. An example is I wanted Florence’s husband to have been in the RAF (of course, me with my interest in war birds! Definitely RAF!), and to have done some sort of printing apprenticeship, which again follows my interests. But no, I just know if this character was real, he would have been in the Army, and done an engineering apprenticeship instead. Why is that?

Agatha Christie's famous male detective was Poirot, a Belgian. In the books, one of his friends is an author called Ariadne Oliver, who writes detective stories based on a man from Finland. In the books, Ariadne rues the day she ever made her detective a Finn, as she continually got letters from readers pointing out mistakes. Ever think this was Agatha's way of sounding off? I sort of can imagine how she feels...

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