Celia Moore, member of Chudleigh Writers’ Circle and regular contributor to this blog, is going to talk to us this week about researching her novels.
“Write what you know, that’s the mantra we all hear isn’t it? I’m taking a breather today from writing my latest novel — the final part of my Fox Halt Farm trilogy — because I wanted to talk about researching the parts of my stories where my experience is lacking.
Some of you may know that I’m a gardener full time, but from 1st January to the beginning of March each year, I sit at my computer writing my books. I love my gardening, but writing is my passion. There’s not much of the time, during the whole year, when I’m not researching it. From listening to the way people interact with one another, to noting down quirky things I haven’t come across before.
Trial and Error
I woke up one morning in January 2017, with the idea for Fox Halt Farm in my head. It seemed like I literally dreamed it up overnight! Other than my GCSE English Language, my only writing had been at university, and reports for work. I had no idea what I was doing but I knew I wanted to write a novel.
I’ve learnt on the job, as it were. Researching how to tackle a first novel from the internet forums— receiving loads of helpful and practical advice at every turn, and hints and tips from author friends, feedback from my wonderful editor and readers alike.
I knew nothing at all about how to make my writing exciting but over the last three years, my knowledge has grown. I am one of those people who makes something straight out of the box, only referring to the instructions when I have one odd piece left over, so I’m glad I’ve learnt this way. Suck it and see. Review and update.
Learning from the Professional Writers
I have listened to thirty-three novels this year, mainly best sellers in the genre I’m writing in and from a variety of authors. I’ve enjoyed most of the books but what I’ve been listening for is the way the stories have been told. The structure, the syntax, the plotting, the resolution and the way the characters are introduced and developed. It’s been a fascinating experience, and I’ve gained lots of insight into what works well and what I like. No two people are going to judge the same book a masterpiece but I do want to make my writing as accessible and enjoyable as possible so this has been a most valuable and pleasurable investigation.
Learning from Other Professionals with Specific Jobs
I grew up on a farm, first dairy, then beef and then bankrupt, and afterwards, I had ten years as a chartered surveyor for one of the corporates, working in London, Bristol and Taunton. The first part of the trilogy was a contrast between city and rural lives. The emotional experiences were based on my own, close family and friends’ lives with the outcomes changed, condensed or made a little more dramatic in places. But for book two, I had lots of help from one specific friend, who was at the time a police detective. He helped me with lots of technical information about how crimes are investigated and prosecuted. I realised that the constant form filling and tight procedures were going to slow my story down too much, so I took a view and kept in what I needed and gave the rest an air of realism; with the police jargon, legal terms and processes bent a little to suit my needs.
Forums, Online Groups and YouTube
My final book is set mainly back on the farm, and for a year, I’ve been a member of four Facebook groups that are wholly dedicated to farming, and contributed to by farmers. It has given me a wonderful insight into their every day lives, hopes and fears, the terms they use, and the farming calendar.
I’ve watched YouTube videos too but always at least three into whatever I want a closer look at. Each contributor has a different view point and advocates varied facts, so I treat everything with scepticism, and then do more research to try and get a definitive answer.
Standing in My Character’s Shoes
The best bit though, is talking and meeting new people, hearing their stories and being able to stand next to them for a while. For book three, I’ve visited a farm who make their own ice cream, and got up silly early in the morning to be with the farmer, watching him milk his cows, all the time, asking every question under the sun. I’ve also stood by a main road in a cow suit waving at people with my fabric cow hooves!
Fox Halt Farm is a change-of-life contemporary romance set on the outskirts of Dartmoor. Other locations include London and Paris. The story runs over two decades and is inspired by some of the experiences in my life and the people I’ve encountered along the way. Book two is Culmfield Cuckoo.