How I Research My Novels
As a writer of contemporary fiction and historical fiction, I regularly have to research elements of my book. From finding out what people wore in the 1940s, to how tarot card reading became a popular form of study in the UK. Here are the resources that I use to research my novels.
Of course, as a writer, the first place I turn to for information is, always, books. When I was researching tarot, astrology, and crystals for What Planet Can I Blame This On? I bought several books, they included Astrology for Dummies and The Inner Sky by Steven Forrest. These were reference books for me, to get more of an understanding of astrology and how the stars affect our lives and personalities.
When I was first looking into tarot card readings I really wanted to book my own reading. But, due to COVID I was unable to. As such, I turned to YouTube to watch other people’s tarot card readings. From personal one-on-ones to Astrological YouTubers who read cards for viewers regularly. It was an informative way to learn from lots of different voices, from the amateur to the professional, and to get a sense of what it is like to be fully invested in the astrological world.
Google is the No. 1 tool for a writer. From looking up the correct spelling of a word to finding the origins of a common phrase. We all use Google on the regular for fact-checking and finding out little known facts and inspiration. For me, I was constantly looking up reminders of what each house in astrology represents, and of course, my characters’ birth charts to solidify their personalities. An imperative tool for writers.
Apps and specific websites
Sometimes, when a book is particularly niche, you can use Apps and specific websites for details into the themes of your books. For What Planet I downloaded about five different horoscope apps to give me inspiration for my characters’ journey and to review the language commonly used within astrology. I will admit that I have since kept one of the horoscopes – Co-Star – as a means to view my daily horoscope.
Libraries are great resources for new writers or writers with an idea that not sure if they want to pursue or not. A few years ago I was looking into writing a book about the Bronte Sisters and I took out about 15 different books about the trio of sisters from libraries to see what I could find out about them. I never actually pursued that project, although I had a whale of a time reading about the three of them!
Also, libraries are particularly great if you’re looking to set a book within a certain location or town. For me, I wrote a historical novel based on a family anecdote of my relatives in the First World War. I set the story in my hometown, which is full to the brim of history, and I went to the local library to review their collection of books and also records, including microfilm of census records and more. Libraries truly are a hub of information, if you know how to use them.
For anyone writing historical fiction, get down to an archive! I love an archive. My particular favourite is the London Metropolitan Archive. I was looking into writing a historical novel about Dorothy Lawrence, the only female British soldier in the first world war, and I discovered that her records were housed at the LMA. I headed down there and I was able to review the actual hand-written records of her time a mental asylum, including her death records. As well as other records of her fellow inmates. It was fascinating.
Before the pandemic, I used to go to events to research my books. In the past, I went to events held at bookshops, with authors in attendance that write in a similar genre to me. Events were great for learning more about the writing process and also hearing how others research and hone their craft. Events also include things like museum events and tours. When there was a Christmas tour at the house where John Keats resided in Hampstead Heath, I got tickets as I was writing about inspired by Keats at the time. Who says that writing is a solo, inside-only activity. Get out and get inspired!
Sometimes the only research you need for a book is a personal experience. When I decided to write a book based on the publishing industry, I based the facts on my experience of publishing. From the description of the offices I worked in, and the processes that I did on the day-to-day. Alternatively, if you’re character goes sky-diving and you want to authentically describe, go sky-diving! Sometimes a personal experience of a character’s activities can be the perfect way to get in a character’s head.
And finally, podcasts. I loved listening to Saturn Returns with Caggie on Apple Podcasts whilst I was writing What Planet Can I Blame This On? because the story follows a woman preparing for her Saturn Return. Also, there are a ton of writing specific podcasts like The Writers Routine and The Sunday Salon. Not to mention niche podcasts on a variety of topics from true crime to gardening. You can learn a lot via podcasts.
But those are the routes I usually go down when I’m researching my novels. What do you do to research your novels? Are you more of an analytic, data-driven writer, or do you prefer to experience what your characters experience? Let me know in the comments below.