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In the name of research

How much research do you have to do for your novel?  A BBC radio programme on a spy cruise (a fascinating concept in itself) interviewed some of the participants, and one was doing research for her novel.  She said her character had suddenly developed an Intelligence background and she needed help.  (A spy cruise, by the way, is a normal cruise but with additional lectures and talks from the Intelligence Community.)

At the other end of the spectrum, there is a novel like the prize winning Tenderness of Wolves, whose author Stef Penny had never visited Canada - where the book is set - and had done all her research in libraries.  It didn't stop her from having written a fantastically atmospheric book, and winning that year's Costa prize.

So what research would you do if your budget was limitless?  I sometimes see book proposals asking for an advance to allow for the author to 'research the interesting world of Caribbean holidays'.  Trust me - if such a budget were available, you'd be fighting off editors everywhere!

How much research is actually necessary?  The traditional advice is 'write about what you know' but your imagination may have taken you in a new direction.  If you're not sure about a whole area - it's probably wisest to steer your character into a different profession if you can.

Don't assume an editor will iron out any inconsistencies.  American publishers often employ fact checkers who will go through every statement with a fine tooth-comb, but it's not normal practice in the UK.

Many authors will say in their acknowledgments that all facts are courtesy of their advisers, but all errors are their own, an elegant way of thanking and still accepting responsibility.


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Over-active research syndrome

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