It’d Be Rude Not To Mention It – Researching And Planning A New Book

Builders – Evidence of New Building in the Village – This time, retirement apartments

For someone who hates committing to anything more than a cream tea – even that’s out of the question on this poxy diet – and, having made the colossal commitment (mistake?) of saying I would join in with both #JuNoWriMo and #CampNaNoWriMo, I have lately been quietly outlining, plotting up my novel and doing a little research. Yes, that’s why I’m quiet. I realise it’s a bit odd.

The Local Butcher’s Shop

It’s been an interesting process. I took part in NaNoWriMo in November with a week’s notice and a barely scratched out graph line on a sheet of wallpaper stating my intended beginning, middle and end to the book.  I hadn’t figured the details. They’d sort themselves out, I thought. Well, they did but I had to draw on reserves from personal experience and, somehow, in the end it was more a biography, and of the very worst times in my life, than a novel!

Hardware Store Leading the Way to… ?

For this coming one, then, the one I’ve wanted to write for, like, ever, I’ve created characters who aren’t the faintest bit like me (okay, maybe some characteristics) although I’ve come across people in life who have a little bit of one and something of the other.  This is pleasing and I’ve found the outlining and research process far more enjoyable.

Originally, I was going to set this novel in 2011. But a quick trip out locally, with Harry the Little Dog and a camera,  showed me it could be a wise move to set it in 2012. There was, because of the Royal Jubilee (60 years of our Queen on the throne)  bunting like the severest Bunting Prohibition was about to be introduced, and locals only too willing to talk about the daily minutiae of life I would normally overlook.

Essex Shop Window – May 2012

I found specialist shops in Ongar that I needed for this novel (and I need to call the owners to arrange an interview) and they were there on my own doorstep. These shops could only be known by some of my characters.  As well as an eclectic assortment of houses in which my characters not only could but would live.

And further, I disappeared behind shops on the main stretch to find hidden gems, small businesses that were useful (oh so useful) to my story.  My characters leaped into some of these places and pretty well inhabited some of these people’s lives. If they didn’t live there or work there, they might be best pals with the owners. My novel scenes were slotting into place.

Cottage – Love The Windows

The difference to a normal Monday outing with the dog was that I went along with the eyes of the writer, rather than seeing this local town as I usually would. I saw it in the way my characters would see it and use it, an alley became my Diagon Alley, a shop a vital emporium for one of my characters, a hair salon the crucial Friday appointment for another. I ended up taking around two hundred photographs; I had many conversations. And all because I wanted my setting to be tangible.

Normally, in that one village I might consider the library, the newsagent, the butcher, Sainsbury’s and the hall where I exercise the only useful places. This exercise, with my Muse behind the camera and asking the questions, showed me otherwise.

Jane Taylor’s Plaque

I had to pause at Jane Taylor’s blue plaque. When I focussed my camera, I saw that she was the author of  “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” – the song I had sung every single week, week in, week out, while playing guitar, at both Catford and Forest Hill Libraries and while running the  Under Fives group.

I used to dread what the mothers of the children were thinking of my “performance” and it turned out that I (and my rendition) was fine. They loved me! (Yes, I’m laughing).  I used to play and sing Nancy Cassidy’s version, which I doubt many people know. My fear, I saw, was always unfounded but I imagine Twinkle Twinkle is sung in library Under 5’s groups to this day. It could appear in my next novel now. But the great thing is: the field is wide open.

At the same time, i.e. over the last month, I’ve been learning Scrivener, an extremely useful program for writers that was offered at discount at the end of NaNoWriMo last November. I was encouraged by those I noticed on Twitter going great guns with it as well as other writers. Oh, I’d pussy-footed around with it but, in my impatience, got confused with new terms and wrote the last novel all the way with Word 2010.

What I see now is that Word will be amazing during the editing process but, in terms of organisation, it’s a wonder I wrote what I did, 70,529 words, at the time! Scrivener, once practised a bit, has turned out to be very useful. Happy customer here now. Because I can import my photos into Scrivener as well as any descriptions of character, setting and so on – and that means it’s all there in one place while I simply write.

I may be quiet but I’m a happy bunny right now. I have characters, I have plot (mainly – I’ll leave a few surprises for during the writing process), I have setting, I even have various props. Maybe I should write a play, a film script. But ha, I don’t want to tempt fate so I’ll just say I’m getting on with it. The pictures and research I’ve done so far with the aid of a simple camera, a dictation machine, notebooks and a modern phone help massively.

How do you outline? Do you make it fun, like I do?  How do you research? Do you go anywhere? Take pictures? Or is it ALL imagined at your desk? I’d love to know…


About Tessa Tangent

I write and I often go off at tangents. Tessa Tangent's my nickname and, at home, I'm called Tessa more than I am my real name, Heather. In the 90s, I had short stories published in magazines like Ludus and For Women. I also won a cherished second prize in a BBC travel writing competition, was the writer of a newsletter for a dry ski slope and had a newspaper article about the slope published. At the same time, I wrote half a first draft of a novel then, for reasons I may reveal, I stopped writing. After a long fallow period, I am writing again - and not a moment too soon...
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9 Responses to It’d Be Rude Not To Mention It – Researching And Planning A New Book

  1. Viv says:

    I walk. A lot. And I mutter like a rampant old baglady.
    I don’t outline; but from what I understand of how Scrivener works, that’s what is inside my head, which is fine unless someone else needs to know. Which thankfully they don’t. I jot down random notes. I sometimes take pictures of places or things that give me a feeling.
    At a certain point, the words start, like some ghost dictating them to me, burning me up as they come through.
    And I do wake in the middle of the night, saying, “Aha! now I understand that!”
    I feel half the time much more like an archaeologist uncovering and reconstructing a ruin than a writer creating something.

    • Thanks, Viv, and I’m sorry I missed your comment. It’s been a crazy week. The archaeologist thing… I so get you, there. That’s exactly what’s happening with this new novel. I only hope it can see the light rather than remain buried or half-buried. I loved going round seeing local things in a new way, though.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Viv. Yes, I also experience those other, somehow more organic, ways of research/creation. When the characters were coming to me at the beginning of the WIP, I likened it to being like a medium summoning the spirits because that’s how I imagined that would feel. And the “archaeologist uncovering and reconstructing” rang very clangy bells, too.

    I could maybe have called this post “Location, Location, Location” as that was the main reason for this particular exercise – with stretches of the imagination, painting houses different colours and giving them different settings, gardens or details, I found a number of potential homes/shopping habits/activities for quite a large castlist.

    I’ve now reached the point where I need to leave certain aspects and plot points for the actual writing of the 1st draft and beyond. Or too much prior detail might make the writing feel like painting by numbers!

  3. Linda says:

    I enjoyed reading your little blog and looking at the pics, and hearing about your progress. I’m not very well at the moment, so not in the mood for typing but just wanted to say; good luck with everything.x

  4. Mostly just sit at desk and dive in, researching on t’internet on the way. I rarely know who the murderer or murderee are when I start. This is possibly because the titles are set in stone before the story begins, often by the publishers.

    • Thanks for commenting, Lesley, and it’s interesting you rarely know murderer or murderee when you begin. I think the title can suggest so much for the novel. I’m finding the title elusive for current WIP. A million ideas scribbled down for title but none yet quite right! Ah well… I can’t let that put me off. Onwards…

  5. Sounds like you have your novel all ready and raring to go and be written! 🙂 My writing process, I’m afraid, is very minimal. It all happens in my desk — the outlining, the brainstorming. And I write longhand. I’ve tried working on the computer but it just feels different. When I’m stumped, I do go to places and keep my eyes peeled so my imagination can take over and bring it to whatever story I’m creating.

    • Thanks for commenting, Anna, and apologies for the late reply! You made me sound so efficient and, yes, the research had been done (as far as possible), scenes worked out to a large degree, characters, story, setting as well drawn up as could be before writing… Yep, you’re right! But now, thanks to the 60th Jubilee celebrations and the resulting snapping shut of my laptop and wallowing in the four days of pageantry (which I loved), er, help!! I’m all behind 🙂 But, I am not panicking, I hope I’ll gradually catch up with JuNoWriMo and, even if it’s less words than expected by end June, it will be better than none. Like you, I love working in longhand. All my initial notes are in l/h and then I type them up gradually on a simple Word file until it feels like I have something with a life of its own. It’s handy to keep small notebooks always and, these days, there’s a camera on every phone. What a joy *that* is! Wishing you all the best… 🙂

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