Sunday, 1 November 2015

Author Georgia Hill Casts Light on Research Methods

Today I am delighted to hand over the page to author Georgia Hill ~
Thank you so much, Annie, for inviting me onto Casting Light and asking me to share my research methods.
In some ways I think I’ve been researching for While I Was Waiting all my life.
My great-grandfather, David Batham, served with the Worcestershire Regiment during the Great War and died in 1915, leaving a young widow and three children. He was talked of a lot when I was a child. My father developed an avid interest in World War 1 and visited his grandfather’s war grave in La Brique Cemetery in Belgium. Dad passed his fascination down to me, along with several books on the subject. One of them is a collection of war photographs. They spare the viewer nothing of the horror of industrialised warfare and although I was fascinated as a child, I can’t bear to look at them now. 

As a teenager I read war poetry, became enslaved to the television version of Testament of Youth and went on to read the books. Cried, along with many other fifteen year olds, at Flambards and gulped down Birdsong when it appeared. I remember reading it on a train crossing the very land in which it’s set. An odd and eerie experience.

When I began writing, I wrote novellas. It fitted in with the time available from my day job as a teacher. Percolating away, in the back of my mind, was the basis of the novel that was to become While I Was Waiting. I wrote some rom-coms which were accepted by my current publisher and my writing career, proper, took off. Although I love to read and write rom-coms, I knew there was something else in me.

I began to collect the years of notes, ideas and jottings together. I spent the whole of one summer break reading around the subject of World War 1 but had to stop. I became depressed  but also, in a strange way, numb to the horrors suffered. The casualty and mortality rates were simply too enormous to comprehend.
I often wonder why I want to write about World War 1. I fear I may have a morbid streak! Conflict, emotional crises, tragedy, despair, snatched happiness – all offer huge scope for a historical romance writer. It’s also such an affecting time in history. The Belle Epoque ending in a mud bath of death and misery. 

As Sheila Llewellyn, one of the characters in While I Was Waiting points out, it’s heart-rending to look at photographs of young men in the pre-war years and know what many of them would have to face.
Ah, maybe that morbid streak is surfacing...
While still working full-time, I grabbed every opportunity to add to my pile of research. I visited the Worcestershire Regimental Museum, as it was local to me and liaised with volunteer archivists there. They provided me with detailed accounts of the movements of the First Battalion, which led to a plot line. They also have an astonishingly comprehensive website.
Whenever I went to a National Trust property, I was drawn to anything concerning The Great War. I remember a bedroom preserved just as it was when the son went off as an officer to do his duty, never to return. His belongings, half young boy’s, half military, brought tears. In another, I sat in a drawing room set up as an ‘Experience Room.’ It was as if the three sons of the house had only just left. You could almost smell the brilliantine on their hair and the leather of their boots. Tragically, all three boys died. Their parents never recovered from the grief. This then, was when those unimaginably huge numbers began making a horrible and poignant sense; through the experiences of one or two individuals.
All these things fed into my imagination and the novel began to take shape. It was only when I gave up teaching to write full-time, that I felt I could do justice to the book and its complicated time-line and plot structure.
Surprisingly, the trickiest research concerned the modern story line. For various reasons, I’d set part of the novel during the year 2000. It was only when I wrote in those little details like mobile phone conversations and computer use that I had to rethink some things. The book is set in a remote village in Herefordshire. Only a dial-up computer connection back then and no mobile phone signal. I know, because I moved into a similar village at about the same time! I couldn’t be blasé about television programmes or what was playing on the radio – I had to research whether Big Brother had started and what was in the pop charts. Thank goodness for the internet. I was a little sneaky though and made my heroine a classical music fan. Her sole foray into pop radio resulted in Who Let the Dogs Out blasting from her car stereo. Can’t help thinking that’s a track which deserves to be forgotten! 
The next book is set on the Jurassic Coast and features a modern day boat-builder and a forced Victorian marriage of convenience. More research needed but this time I have the idea plotted out and know beforehand what I need to find out. It’s a slightly easier way to work. It’s also involved a visit to a boat-building school which was great fun. It’s not just the historical details which need researching.

Flora’s story is also calling. She’s the new-money, flighty young neighbour of the Trenchard-Lewis family who feature in While I Was Waiting. I already have a stash of information I can use but I want Flora to become a Suffragette and only have scant knowledge of what they went through. Maybe the first step is to watch the new film just out. Watching two hours of Meryl Streep being Emmeline Pankhurst is going to be fascinating and besides, knowledge is rarely wasted!
Research is hard work. It involves legwork, stamina, brainpower and detective skills. It’s time-consuming and there are few short-cuts but it’s also great fun. Of course, it helps if you already have a passion for the period in history you are studying. The main danger? Getting far too engrossed in the research and not writing the book!

Thank you Georgia, for taking us behind the scenes and talking about your research in such detail

Find Georgia on on her WEBSITE,
and find her books on AMAZON and at HARPERIMPULSE

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