The things you do for research


One of the truly great things about being a writer is the stuff you get to do for research. Some of it is research as you might imagine it – looking things up. The internet has been a Godsend for writers – so much information, so easily to hand. I’ve researched Irish mythology, geography, the streets of Boston, arranged marriages, NSW law, council by-laws, the properties of plastic and basic physics.

But the stuff you do outside of that to test theories or do things is where the real fun of research comes in. Some of my favourite things I’ve done include:

  • Touring through Parliament House and peeking into people’s offices

Okay, it wasn’t full on peeping – most of the offices have curtains over them and the lights were off so you couldn’t see much. But it was amazing to walk the corridors of our house of power and see what the politicians, their staffers and the media deal with every day. For example – the doors into the offices are really tall and narrow. Some of the bigger men in the building would honestly have problems getting through them. It’s little details like that that can make a story come alive. You’ll see some of this in The Importance of Being Ernestine.

  • Going to court

When writing The Lies We Tell, I needed to get a feel for the judicial system as the poor heroine has some stuff to deal with. So I went down to Queanbeyan Court to sit in on a session. I have to say, not my best choice. Queanbeyan Court is small, and it was really clear that I was there as an observer. Even the judge noticed me and said something. Made me feel really squeamish and at the first break I cut and ran. In future, I’ll go to big courts and only go into cases where there are some people in the gallery so I can observe without being seen myself.

  • Visiting both Wombeyan and Jenolan Caves

I am a bit of a cave fan. I adore them – the beauty, the cool. I love when they turn the lights out and you are left in complete blackness and the sensory deprivation is astounding. I love when they show you how the original visitors came in and you wonder at these men (and sometimes women) and their bravery at crawling through tiny openings with oftentime inappropriate clothing, with nothing more than a small oil lamp or candle to light their way. Caves feature in a fantasy romance that I started working on several years ago but has been pushed aside with the contemporary and science fiction romance I’ve been focused on.

  • Visiting Te Papa Museum in Wellington, NZ

Beyond a doubt the most brilliant museum I’ve ever been too, particularly in the way they portray the entirety of New Zealand history, white and Maori. You don’t just look at or read about it, you get to sense it and even experience it with things such as a reproduction of a traditional hut that you’re allowed to go into. And the earthquake exhibit is incredible although I dare say for people who have been into an earthquake, a bit too realistic. This is research for the same fantasy romance mentioned above, which has an islander style community at the centre of it.

  • Attempting to wrap my hands in cling wrap to see if you can make your own gloves

This was something I did for a scene in Rogue Gadda that ended up not appearing in the final book. Asarlai was unconscious and the guardians needed to pick her up but they couldn’t use their power or just pick her up because she would suck the power from them. Plastic as a human made substance is impervious to power, so the idea was to make gloves for themselves out of cling wrap to do what needed to be done. To see if it was doable, I had to try it myself. Of course I did.

  • Eating meals at restaurants you are going to feature

Well, there’s got to be some perks of being an author. Most of the places featured in The Making of Henri Higgins are places that I’ve eaten. And I’ve shopped in most of the places mentioned. I did mean to try some of the stuff mentioned in the book but I didn’t get round to it during the writing. Maybe I’ll do that next month when it’s released – to see if it all does actually work.

And then of course there’s the things you do for fun, or as part of work, that you take note of because it might feature in the future. Like a glass blowing lesson I did at the Canberra Glassworks. Tours of facilities for work that can end up being tours of potential settings. Things I see in presentations at conference. So much that can become grist for the mill.

Progress report

  • Revision exercises for The Importance of Being Ernestine completed. Next weekend – the actual revision begins.

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