I read Joanna Trollope’s book: The Soldiers Wife and I know the author spent quite a bit of time with soldiers and their wives so that she understood the intricacies of their lives before she wrote the book. As a result it is a very interesting insight into the challenges these people face as well as being a good story.
Before I started writing Forever Lucky, I went to Highgate Village in London (where it is set) and walked around taking in the ambience of the place, lunching at one of the cafes and taking endless photographs. This provided rich material for me and actually made the writing easier in terms of developing the story around my key idea. As a writer you can mix some facts that you like with your characters and storylines.
I chose Highgate because I had lived there for a short time as a student but that was a long time ago (yes, very long) so I wanted to update my memories with how it is today as the novel is set in present day. Also, I am so much more observant now as I wander around. As a student I was pretty blinkered!
When I first started writing I thought that having to do research would make the whole process too time consuming. I do admire those that write historical novels; you need a really good knowledge of your chosen period (how did different classes behave then etc..) before you can even make a start!
Anyway I’m happy writing contemporary novels hand picking the factual details that serve my story well whilst developing characters that are completely made up. Ha!