Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Research, research, research...

I'm in a writing lull at the moment, reflecting on my last intense burst and gearing up for the next.
One of the things that really struck me in the midst of my last month of midnight writing was I hadn't done my research. It's all very well trying to knuckle down and write like a fury, but if you don't know the world you're writing about inside out and back to front, you find yourself writing a lot of ... and then X did this  and XX did that, and the sun shone brightly upon the X hills and XX wept bitter tears as XXX  and X.  And you end up with an awful lot of X's to fill in, and when you do go to fill them in, you discover the facts just won't twist themselves to do what you want them to.
I've written before that there's a reason I stick with fantasy - so I don't get things too ridiculously wrong. I turned a faint shade of green recently when I saw a book about how to write a historical novel - using as little research as possible. My inner-librarian (and inner-historian, come to that,) shuddered. I've read books like that. The result has not been pretty.
But I was actually wrong. It's just as easy to get things ridiculously wrong in fantasy as it is in any other genre.
In this case, writing about a myth-time Ireland, based upon myths that conflict wildly both with themselves and the archaeology, I thought I'd be able to wing it. However, I started doing some basic (early-hours-of-the-morning) googling and realised that according to the myth cycle, my central character was supposed to be born some thousand years before his son... but to die at about the age of sixty... And that this character was over here doing that, when he was supposed to be over there and...
Also, gods tend to have religious significance... Is that character really a lunar goddess in disguise? Her father a god of darkness? Is her son a god of craft, or a solar god? Is there a Loki connection? Should I try to use that?
The stories I'm basing everything on were written down by the monks, who had turned their back on the old gods and were apt to twist the stories a little, so not the most reliable of sources. And yet, the monks were of the same culture, they weren't imposed from any other place, so they were not the most unreliable either.
My book is half done, and I don't plan to finish the first draft until November.
But it looks like between here and November I'll be doing a lot of research. Can you see the Irish mainland from Tory Island? How is the birth-attendant related to the main character? Should I include Newgrange, and if so, what is its importance? And the basic things: what did prehistoric peoples do for nappies. How is Lunasa celebrated? Bilberries? Really. What does a bilberry taste like? What time does the sun rise on August first in the west of Scotland, on average? What was Nuada like? And should I include the bit where the druids make his silver arm a real, flesh and blood, functioning arm again? At what age would a young boy go on his first cattle raid? And if this happens here, then that needs to happen there but ... Brrr.
Luckily, I seem to be somewhat prepared. Long ago, almost at the dawn of time, I studied a subject called 'Pagans, Christians, Goddesses and Kings in early Ireland'. At the time it seemed destined to lead me to a lifetime of work in cafes. (You should have heard my dad snort - he's modern history all the way and still seems faintly disbelieving I have a history degree and couldn't begin to name most Australian Prime Ministers.)  Now, it seems like it'll come in handy.

Brain, get working.

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