Today, my friend and fellow author Richard E. Rock visits the blog to discuss the importance of research in his novels. Thank you for your time today, Richard and for giving my readers an insight into why research is so important to you.
Thank you for inviting my along today, Val. When I started writing seriously, by which I mean tackling novels, I dreaded the research aspect, and I vowed to only write books that required no research whatsoever, or books on subjects that I already knew about. Needless to say, this misguided philosophy lasted only around ten minutes. Then the real world kicked in. When I started work on Deep Level, my first novel, I made the effort to do some research into the London Underground and its history, and into urban exploration, and guess what…I loved it.
For a start, the research process forces me to read books I wouldn’t otherwise pick up, and watch documentaries I probably wouldn’t switch on.
Research can also open up new avenues of exploration as regards plot and character development. I don’t need to become an expert on something in order to feature it in a novel, but the more I learn about it, the better. Knowledge enriches the story. And in this way, I end up learning a little bit about a lot of things, and that in itself is a valuable thing.
Of course, it helps if the idea behind the novel is one that excites me in the first place. Then I actually want to learn more about it. Inspiration for a novel can come from absolutely anywhere. The important thing is to recognise it when it comes along. You might be inspired while watching the news, while reading a novel by someone else, while walking in the country, while having a bath, while listening to a song. My inspiration tends to come from dreams – or, to be more accurate, from nightmares – and that’s no accident as I deliberately induce them. So, armed with an idea that’s suitably compelling, building on it becomes a joy.
For example, my second novel, Frenzy Island, was based on a series of nightmares I had about UFOs and aliens. Into that already heady mix I added a refugee crisis, secret US military installations and genetic modification.
How I loved reading up on all this stuff! I really did. Especially on aliens and UFOs, subjects which have intrigued me for my entire life.
I also find that it also helps if I incorporate my research into my routine, instead of taking time out to do it. Time is something that I have precious little of to spare, after all. I’m sure a great many of you reading this will identify.
Here’s an example: earlier this year I sold my body for medical experiments. Yeah, I know. It’s crazy but it’s true. Anyway, this involved me spending 18 days in a medical trial facility in Merthyr Tydfil. With nothing else to do but sit on my arse for all that time, I took in the research books for the folk horror novel I’m working on, along with a notebook, and got reading. That way, I actually got paid to research my work in progress.
Another benefit of research is that bad experiences can contribute to it. A while back, when I was pulling 10-hour shifts in a freezing cold, rat infested warehouse, I decided to view the entire experience through the prism of research, and it helped. It actually made working there palatable. And somewhere along the line, a novel of mine will feature a character who pulls 10-hour shifts in a freezing cold, rat infested warehouse, and the details will be immaculate, because the research is already in the bank.
And if you’re working on a fantasy novel, even daydreaming qualifies as research.
Plus – and this is a BIG plus – research can save you from making a right turnip of yourself. For example, if not for research, I would have made a monster clunker in the very first sentence of the aforementioned folk horror novel that I’m currently working on.
It read: “The first horror to befall the village of Glawlludw arrived on New Year’s Eve, in the ice-cold, iron-skied abyss of midwinter.”
The novel is set in 17th century Wales, and at that time Britain was still on the Julian Calendar, which would have put New Year’s Eve on the 24th of March. Hardly the coldest, darkest depths of midwinter.
A good friend of mine, bestselling Welsh author Catrin Collier, can often be heard stressing how important thorough research is when working on a novel. By way of illustration, she cites the example of an associate of hers who was working on a novel about a couple falling in love in Britain during the Second World War. Catrin was given a draft of it to read and was astonished to discover that this couple, at the height of the conflict, go away on holiday. Abroad. To Italy. Hm.
Thinking about it, I can think of no better example of why research is vital than the above. But just because it’s vital doesn’t mean that it has to be a chore. Having learnt that, I now lean into the research process and actually enjoy it, and my work is all the better for it.
Richard E. Rock is a south Wales-based author of the frightening and fantastical.
He was inspired to become a novelist after experiencing a series of particularly ferocious nightmares. After waking up and realising he could turn these into horrible but compelling stories, he started deliberately inducing them.
His debut horror novel Deep Level was published in 2020 to overwhelmingly positive reviews. His latest novel Frenzy Island was published by Cranthorpe Millner in 2022 and is out now.
He has over thirteen years experience as a commercial scriptwriter in the radio industry and has in the past been a frequent contributor to Viz Comic and the satirical news website newsthump.com.
He lives with his girlfriend and their cat and his interests include Norwegian Black Metal, Russian prison literature and Scooby Doo.