Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Adventures of the mind

Barbara here. I know I have talked before about the joys of armchair travelling while researching a book, but every day I discover new horizons and ideas that make the writing life so exciting. Writers don't need to be limited to writing what they know; we can research what we need to know, and in the process we expand our experiences.

I am currently working on a new book that combines several areas that are new and interesting to me. First, since the novel involves travel to Gros Morne Park and western Newfoundland, I am having a great time studying maps, pictures, and stories about the area. I will be travelling in person to the area later in the summer.  And then during the dark, cold days of winter I will be researching international aid work, particularly in Africa.

But right now, I am immersed in the world of motorcycles. To date, my experience of them is limited to having dated a young man with a motorcycle almost half a century ago. You never really forget the sensation of the wind tearing through your hair, the roar of the engine, the vibrations of the bike and the road, and the feeling of vulnerability along beside much larger cars. But I have never driven one, nor taken one on a road trip with all my gear stashed on the back.

So far I have browsed through internet forums and motorcycle websites, and then spend an afternoon in Powersports here in Ottawa amid a whole floor of shiny new machines, talking to a young man about the kind of bike that a small woman with a dog might buy to tour from Quebec to Newfoundland. Dogs, I've learned, can be great travelling companions and can be transported in a pet carrier on the back of the bike or in a trailer or sidecar. They need to be securely belted in and should wear protection such as goggles. At the moment I have opted for a sidecar, but will be doing more research. I think the image of my character driving side by side with her 40-pound dog in a mini sidecar wearing matching goggles is perfect. But I'd love to hear from readers on the pros and cons of each kind.

Meanwhile I look at every motorcycle on the road and watch what the drivers wear, how they move, how they carry their gear, as well as the kind of bikes they drive. Never having had the least interest in them before, I am now learning all I can. I look forward to my trip to Newfoundland, where I expect to meet many more cruising motorcyclists whose brains I can pick. With any luck, I will be able to bum a few rides on the open road to capture the true feeling.

When a writer ventures into a domain about which we know nothing, it's crucial to get as much information as possible, not just the facts but the sensations, sounds, feelings and emotions that accompany it. Because some reader, somewhere, will be able to spot the errors and feel cheated about the whole story. PD James, for example, apparently made a mistake involving a motorcycle, and received lots of mail correcting her.

What a gift to have an excuse to explore the unknown and experience new thrills, all in the name of writing research. So if you see me streaking down the Queensway on the back of a lime green motorcycle, with a dog in a sidecar wearing matching goggles, know that it will all turn up in a book sometime.

1 comment:

Eileen Goudge said...

Great advice, Barbara. Particularly for those of us who are growing older and--ahem--more sedate. I need to booted now and then to get out and do something different. Lately I've thought about researching fly-fishing for a novel. With your words of advice in mind, I may just take the plunge. Never mind I've never caught a fish bigger than my thumb.