Getting ready for Nanowrimo – Research

Nanowrimo 2012 starts in just two weeks and today is official NaNoPrep Day.

I started thinking about what I wanted to write back in June and the ideas brewed over the summer. It came from different places: a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum where I work; an article on Piltdown man; another about an obscure reference book of monsters; photographs of the museum a century ago glimpsed in the archives.

A pair of main characters suggested themselves. I picked a time period, 1908, and thought about the kind of story I wanted to write :- alternative history/action/adventure/Sherlock Holmes meets Indiana Jones. Or something thereabouts.

I made myself wait until 1st October to begin the preparations in earnest. This is the third novel I’ve started in the last five years and I have a better understanding of what’s useful for me. I’m not a massive planner. I like to use the process of writing the first draft to discover what the story is about and to understand the characters.

First I bought a thick new notebook. Everything important in my life seems to provide an occasion to buy new stationary.

Next I wanted to carry out some research to get inspiration and ground myself in the time period. I talked to the archivist in the museum where I work and arranged to spend some of my lunch hours researching in the archives. All the museum archivists I’ve met have been extremely helpful, very knowledgable and keen to have their archives used more widely. I told her the kind of thing I was interested in (materials relating to the museum from around 1900-1910) and she made some suggestions and produced a trolley-full for me to peruse.

My trolley of delights…

I was looking for the little details that make a story come alive and, more importantly, ideas for the plot. Among the volumes was this book of letters sent to the museum. They can be a bit dry and include requests to identify specimens, offers of items for sale, requests to loan material etc.

Letters sent to the museum over 100 years ago. There’s one from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in this volume

One of my favourite letters opens with the line “By the time you get this I shall probably be on the road to Mandalay.”  I suspect that, even in 1909, it was a rather pretentious way to begin a letter.

Other materials included newspaper clippings, huge albums of black and white photographs, guide leaflets and minutes of the trustees meetings. Each provided a little more colour for my story and some intriguing leads.

Finally I bought (and started reading) a small number of books that I thought would be useful as general reference.

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