It is my great pleasure to the fine author and poet, Tim Taylor, to my blog today to discuss the importance of researchin different genres. Thank you for your time today, Tim.
Hello Val and thank you for inviting me along. Today I’m going to talk about research – and specifically about the rather different kinds of research I’ve done for two novels in distinct genres.
A while back, I wrote a historical novel, Zeus of Ithome, set in ancient Greece. I’d studied ancient history at university, so I already had some knowledge of the Greek world. However, the specific events around which I based my story – the war between Thebes and Sparta in the mid-4th century BC and the revolt of the Messenian ‘helots’ against their enslavement by the Spartans – were new to me. It was reading about these events in a book about Sparta that inspired me to write the novel.
That gave me a good starting point, but as I wrote the story I realised there was lots more I needed to find out about: the detailed history of these events, the historical personalities involved, the way people lived – and fought each other. So I read lots of other books, including translations of the original Greek texts. The classical sources are not always reliable, so there is sometimes the question of whether to believe them or not. Though my aim in the novel was to be consistent with what is known about the events, where there is doubt or disagreement, I felt entitled to interpret them in the way that best suited the story.
Another important area of research was on place. With a couple of exceptions, I had never visited most of the places that feature in the novel. I made heavy use of Google Maps and Google Earth, following the terrain to give me a sense of the landscapes my characters were moving through.
My current project, provisionally entitled The God of the Blue Mountain, is very different: a sci-fi novel set thousands of years in the future on a planet hundreds of light years from Earth. Thus there is no need to research geography or history or the nuts and bolts of how people live. All of that has had to come out of my own imagination – a major challenge in itself, of course, but a rather different one from doing research.
Nevertheless, there is still a lot of research to be done. This is because I’m writing what is known as ‘hard’ sci-fi. This emphasises scientific plausibility – no magic dressed up as technology for me! So when my story involves astronomy, or physics, or engineering (as it often does), I need to get it right – or at least, right enough, so that peope won’t be saying ‘oh, that’s obviously wrong’.
I’m no scientist, so ‘getting it right’ has required a lot of internet surfing. Wikipedia has been a big help, as have various scientific sites. I’ve also been very fortunate to have friends who know a lot more about this stuff than I do. I’ve had some fascinating discussions with an engineer about the design of my spaceship, and with an astronomer about supernovae and the like. I’ve even consulted an archaeologist about a bit where people are digging up relics from an older culture.
Are there common elements between these different kinds of research? I can think of two. In both cases, I’ve found it works best for me to research things as they come up, rather than trying to blitz everything in advance. And in both cases, I’ve found the research very enjoyable, even addictive, in its own right. The trick is often to know when to stop researching and get back to writing.
Tim Taylor writes fiction and poetry. He has published two novels, Zeus of Ithome and Revolution Day, with Crooked Cat; and two poetry collections, Sea Without a Shore, and LifeTimes, with Maytree Press. He is currently working on a science fiction project. Tim lives in Yorkshire, teaches Ethics at Leeds University and enjoys playing the guitar and walking up hills (not usually at the same time).
Signed copies of Zeus of Ithome are available from the author at £7 inc. P&P: email at firstname.lastname@example.org
The God of the Blue Mountain is a work in progress. Parts of the story have been published in the anthologies Darkness and Light by Twisted Fate Publishing.