When writing, there is a myriad of tools available for research. There is the traditional library. I love libraries; rows and rows of information parcels wrapped up in an (not always) interesting cover, just waiting to be discovered and read. Whenever I walk into our local library I feel like a child in lolly shop! So many things, so many ideas, so much information and so little time.
In South Australia there has been an exciting new development with the state-run libraries. We now have a One Card which will eventually be able to be used at any library in the state; no need to have separate cards for different libraries. While I have used inter-library loans (in which I can ‘order’ a book from a different Australian library and have it delivered and collected from my local library, for short term borrowing), it is now much easier to do so.
Then there is the internet. Though fraught with obstacles, time wasting sidetracks and debatable facts, there is a lot of wonderful things that can be found via my laptop. Not straying too far from the traditional library, I can go online and check out my (and other) library catalogue, put a book on hold, order a book on inter-library loan and even extend borrowing time. Did I say how much I love my library?
Moving further afield, there are a multitude of websites that are useful for research, providing that one realises that some are ephemeral or have dubious information; anyone can type almost any rubbish and post it to the internet. Sometimes these sites can actually be fun and one actually given me an interesting idea (once I had stopped laughing that was).
Earlier in the year, I was writing my short story An Eye for Detail, based in Victorian London. I had access to the Charles Booth poverty maps (1989) which can be found online; http://booth.lse.ac.uk/static/a/4.html . I find these very useful when situating my stories, describing the characters and area, as it details the different economic groups that lived in the differing areas and streets of London. I also use then 1881 London census for more information on occupations which are listed by street as well.
Two good sites for this are:
I find it much easier to write if I can picture the area, scene or action in my imagination. I can often be seen (if there was anyone else in the room) running through sequences, an umbrella or suitable prop in hand. For The Feline Principle, I even had my husband in a headlock so I could see if he could wiggle his way out of it the way I had planned.
We all know about Google Maps (and often complain about it when it gives us wrong directions, when we are driving). It can be such a useful tool. In An Eye for Detail, I wanted to get the lie of the land so that I would see it in my mind’s eye while I was writing. At the end, there was a foot chase through some of the streets of Marylebone. I wanted to ‘see’ where I was going. I googled it.
Firstly, I found the position of the local police station (and did some internet research to see where it was in the late 1880s) as that would be needed during the story. I then decided to start the story not far from the modern day Harley street, famous for it doctors. However, as my main character Viola was not as well off, I started a few streets to the east. From there the chase led away from the upper-class areas. I used the street view of Google Maps to follow the route, making notes of contemporary Victorian buildings and the Victorian street names (some had been changed) by cross referencing with my Charles Booth maps. This made everything more alive and the words flowed!
There are other interesting finds on Google Maps. While doing a virtual tour, I was directed to the following area at Earls Court Rd, London. Behold! A Police box.. but it is not just any Police box! I was instructed to do the following: Click around until you see two navigation arrows (like this >>) and click on them. A fiddly job but worth it. For the Doctor Who fans out there, rejoice! We can now take a virtual walk around the control room of our beloved TARDIS.
The Lie of the Land