Having written eleven pseudo-medieval fantasy books, spanning three series, I have drawn on many landscapes and cultures that I experienced during my travels as a pilot in the RAF. However, these were always done from memories and photos of trips taken years ago. I found it impossible to justify trips to far flung locations that were not actually going to appear in my books. After speaking with several different authors who regaled me with tales of their research adventures, I must admit to having suffered ‘research envy’. One particular lady author had deliberately set her stories in a string of locations around the world that she had always wanted to visit… and then proceeded to do so in the name of ‘research’.
My research until last year tended to be very practical. For my Imperial trilogy I learned a martial art, (I’m now a black belt at Tae Kwon Do) how to pick a lock and how to throw knives. Learning these skills was great fun, but none involved trips to exotic lands. For Dragon Orb I did indoor skydiving to get a sense of what it would be like to fall from a high cliff, or from a dragon’s back, and went flying in a Tiger Moth biplane to get a sense of what the early days of aviation were like. Again, both fun experiences, but I knew I was missing a trick.
My new series starts with a book called The Devil’s Triangle (31 March 2011). This is very different from any story I’ve written before. For the first time, I’ve given the story a modern day setting – Summer 2010… in the Florida Keys! Well, if you’re going to do a research trip, it might as well be somewhere exotic and comfortable, right?
The Keys are a fascinating location for a story and I was delighted to find that everyone I spoke to there was loaded with information that helped make the characters and setting come alive. But I could have spoken with them by telephone or on skype. I could have explored the streets of Key West using Google Earth, so why go all the way to Florida, aside from the fact that it was a lot of fun? Any experienced writer will tell you that there is no replacement for sniffing the air and running your fingers through the plant leaves. The feel of the water as you swim and the thrill of hooking a large fish from the back of a boat are experiences that are hard to describe unless you’ve actually done them. It is these experiences that add depth to the writing and make it come to life for the reader. The old adage of ‘write what you know’ is true. For me, one of the most exciting things about being a writer is the process of extending what I know so that I can write about it with authority.
Research envy is a thing of the past for me now. The question is: where am I going to set my next book? You know what? I sort of fancy a trip to Japan!
Posted for Mark Robson by Frances Thomas