CONFESSIONS OF A NON-RESEARCHER!

I have been wanting to blog here again for some time, but I always have the problem of what to write about. It’s strange, that, isn’t it, when I make my living out of dreaming up and writing stories? I finally went back to the multitude of questions a number of you asked when I asked a while ago for help with topics. And I came across this one from someone I know only by the name Becky:

“How did you research the specific ailments of the Survivors’ Club heroes to get their realistic Points of View? How much of it was just straight research and how much of it was talking to people with similar experiences? If you did a lot of talking to real people, how did you find them?”

And here comes the confession: I do almost no research of matters pertaining to character–as opposed to all the research I had to do for the Regency period itself and the Napoleonic Wars and other factual stuff. Everything else comes purely from my imagination. I do believe I have the ability to put myself imaginatively in the place of most types of people and know just what it feels like to be them. One pleasant result of this is that I am very rarely judgmental. I always know where the most unpleasant-seeming people are “coming from.” Another pleasant result is that I can create stories for the most complex and difficult heroes and heroines.

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It is a risk to write this way, of course. I could arouse a storm of protest if I ever get some sort of character horribly wrong. It has not happened yet (fingers crossed). When I wrote SILENT MELODY with its 18th century deaf mute heroine, for example, I could only imagine what it must be like to be deaf in an age when people assume you must be insane. But I heard from several people afterward that I got it absolutely right (whew!). Incidentallly, that book will be out again next summer as a trade paperback. And since THE ARRANGEMENT has been published, I have heard from blind people who tell me I got Vincent right.

For me one of the most exciting aspects of writing is creating difficult characters, jumping inside their skin and their minds and their souls, and living the story with them, often having no more idea than they do where it is headed. It feels like real life in a different persona. How would Hugo have felt in THE PROPOSAL, having not only survived some brutal military action in the Peninsular Wars, including a Forlorn Hope attack, which he led, but also escaped without even a scratch? Would he have been happy, delighted, cocky? Or would he have gone out of his mind with an extreme case of survivors’ guilt? The second reaction seemed the most probable, and it is the one I chose.

And what about Ben in THE ESCAPE? His whole life had been centred about his physical prowess and his military career–and then his legs were shattered beyond repair. Even after five years of determined therapy he could only hobble along with the aid of two specially-made canes. What would that do to his life? To his future? To his self-esteem? Would he merely withdraw to his estate, which would offer him a home and financial security for the rest of this life? Or would he have to find another path through life that would be as fulfilling to him as the old one? Would he find a way of accepting his limitations without being defeated by them? Or would he always feel that his life was an inferior thing, hardly worth living? Well, you can read the book to find what did happen to him. But keep in mind that I write heroes and heroines who triumph over life in their own way. Only so can they be considered heroes and heroines. Only so can they be capable of mature love and a lasting relationship.

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And what about Flavian, hero of ONLY ENCHANTING, due out in November? I can’t give away too many spoilers  because his book is not even out yet. But if you have read the other books in the series you will know that he spent three years at Penderris Hall recovering from head wounds sustained in a cavalry battle but that he seems to be fine again apart from a persistent stammer. You will also know that soon after he was wounded his beloved fiancée jilted him in order to marry his best friend–a double betrayal. What I had to ask myself when I came to writing his story was why exactly it took him three years to recover from his injuries, and what residual hurts are there apart from the stammer? What was the full extent of his brain damage and has he totally recovered from it? Can he ever? And what about the personal pain of his rejection by two of the people he loved most in the world? Oh, I love, love, love approaching a book with those sorts of questions in my mind.

In my own defence, I must add that I do not live with my head in the sand. Very few people these days could be unaware of the sorts of damage war does to the soldiers who are involved in it, even if they escape physical injury–and especially if they do. And sometimes I talk to people without any thought to doing research. I was in Starbucks just last week, fascinated by the sight of a man with hands but almost no arms, doing an intricate and gorgeous pencil drawing with his hands and his mouth. I got to talking to him and discovered that he had been a thalidomide baby, that he has a degree in fine arts, that he is currently working on a series of oil paintings of THE GREAT GATSBY, and a lot of other fascinating stuff. What an awesome person! He has certainly not been slowed down by a medical disaster that might have ruined his life.

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To two people who leave a comment below before the end of next Monday, August 4, I will send an advance reading copy of ONLY ENCHANTING. Please note that it has a plain cover, not the one shown above, and that they are uncorrected proofs and may contain bloopers that will not (I hope) be there when the book is published in November.