Monday, April 18, 2016

Getting the Knowledge

I enjoyed Vicki's recent post on the subject of 'write what you know'. Like her, if I only wrote what I know it would make for a pretty dull book. I've always envied those people  who before becoming writers have had a wonderfully chequered career – bouncer, roadie, explorer, stunt man – which must give them a huge advantage in terms of life experience.

I've had varied experiences, admittedly, from interviewing the then Archbishop of Canterbury to having dinner with a sheik and his entourage in Abu Dhabi, but that's not the sort of thing to qualify you for writing an ecclesiastical thriller or a wild Desert Song romance.

'Write what you want to know,'  Vicki said, and though it hadn't struck me before in those terms, I think it's an excellent principle.  One of the joys of writing is imagining yourself into a completely different situation.

The problem for many writers starting out is not knowing how to get that knowledge. When I'm doing a workshop, it's one of things I'm most often asked. I usually reply, 'Read up anything you can find. Go to the place. Talk to the people,' and what is interesting is how prepared they are to follow the first two suggestions while shrinking from the third.

Perhaps it's the fact that writers are at heart solitary creatures that makes them reluctant to impose on others.  'Oh, I couldn't!' is surprisingly often an instinctive, horrified response.  I used to have it myself, at the beginning.

But now I understand that most people love to talk about themselves and their expertise.  I wanted to have a character who was a silversmith; when I emailed a very well-known one who worked nearby to see if  he might answer a few technical questions, he asked me to his studio and spent the afternoon showing me everything he did.

When I wanted details about police procedure, I managed to get an appointment with a DI in Marjory Fleming country and turned up at 11 am with a list of questions, hoping for half-an-hour. I emerged well after 2pm, during which time he hadn't stopped talking and we'd both missed our lunch. As research, both were pure gold.

I daresay you might have to develop a thick skin in case people do refuse, though I've never approached anyone who did. And of course, I'm happy to tell anyone who wants to know all about my life as a writer. Sometimes I even get paid for to do it!

1 comment:

amreade said...

Another great post- thanks!