Saturday, 3 April 2021

The Joy of Research (or not)


Usually, my research starts after I’ve had an idea for a book. My work in progress happened the other way around. I was doing research for The Girls from the Beach (out this July), when I came across an unrelated article that has since culminated into an entire separate book!

This was unexpected and exciting for sure!

But let’s talk about what research is really like. Research is both inspiring and exhausting! It really is. If you don’t watch yourself, you can fall down that archive rabbit hole and never come out! Well, eventually you do, but whether or not you are now armed with the research you need to write your book, or bogged down with so much information and more ideas than you can handle, is another thing.

Though, it’s not all papercuts and mad-scientist hair. Research can also reveal some pretty awesome things and leave you laughing like Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, and that, my friends, is when I love it the most.

Because I don’t want to give spoilers about my July release, I’m going to talk about the research I did for my debut novel, The Girl I Left Behind. When doing research for this book, I found something so awesome, I obsessed about it for days until I figured out a way to put it in the novel.

The Girl I Left Behind is a story about a young woman swept into the youth German Resistance in Nuremberg, 1941. When I started this book in 2009, there was an average amount of information on the internet and at my library about the youth resistance, but I knew I needed to go to the source and ask questions—I needed to ask Germans in Germany. I knew that Germans were reluctant to talk about this dark period of their history, so I looked up businesses in an around the areas my characters found themselves.

I figured that if they had a section on their website about their shop’s history (which several did—mostly about the building’s history throughout the ages) they might reply to an email. Some got back to me; some did not. The Korn und Berg bookstore was one who wrote back. The email was written in English, and they apologized for their English and the time it took to get back to me, but they wanted to make sure they translated properly.

(Literally my face while reading the email)

They told me that during a Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg, Hitler noticed the windows of the Korn und Berg bookstore and he didn’t like the shape! He broke away from his entourage, walked right into the store and demanded the owner change them out. The owner wasn’t a supporter of the Party, and I could only imagine how that scene played out, with Hitler throwing open the front door amidst a clang of bells, stomping past all the books and slamming his fist on the counter, shocking a very nervous bookstore owner. Glass was very expensive during that time, and the owner was ordered to fund these changes himself, or risk punishment. Oh, you better believe I included this little gem in my story.

My writer friend, Marie O’Halloran, is always telling me about the crazy things she finds out during her research, so I asked if she’d share some of that with me today.

Hi Marie! Thank you for talking with me today. First, what do you write?

I write crime thrillers, psychological thrillers and police procedurals. I have also tackled a police comedy, think Fr Ted meets Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

Once you have an idea, what is your first step towards research?

I usually let the idea roll around in my brain for a little while and let the scene unfold. Then start writing and research as I go. For my psychological thriller set on the Wild Atlantic Way in Dingle, Co, Kerry Ireland, I was able to visit and spend time there. This really adds to the authenticity of the writing once you can immerse all your sense in a place. If you’re not able to visit the location try to get an idea what other peoples’ sense of the place was. A librarian friend of mine suggested using a resource like TripAdvisor. For my gangland thrillers, I don’t have to look far. They are set in Ireland with everything within a few hours’ journey away. There are also ready resources available in news reports, documentaries and newspaper articles. Even though I’ve spent over two decades in the police force and while that aspect of writing procedurals means I have less to research, I still have to double-check some procedures to ensure I too am accurate in how I reflect the scenario. A lot is available through an internet search but I have the extra skill to interpret them and allow them to play out on the page.

Which book have you most enjoyed researching?

My psychological thriller, because I adore the West of Ireland, especially Dingle, and it gave me a really good excuse to spend more time there.

During your research, was there anything that blew your socks off, and couldn't believe?

While researching for a police procedural about human trafficking between Dublin, Ireland and Haiti, I ended up seeking the advice from the Deputy State Pathologist. She was so generous with her information and time. It really did blow my socks off that I was on the phone chatting with her about neurotoxins and Haitian Vodou. It also struck me how generous professions are, in general, when talking about their jobs. It never hurts to ask. For my psychological thriller I got a behind-the-scenes tour of Dingle Distillery as their location, Whiskey and Gin are included in my book. I also had the pleasure of taking the main tour which included tasting. It was very difficult to read my notes taken after the consumption of their tasty product.

What is the craziest thing you've ever done in the name of research?

I could tell you but I’d have to kill you.

😱 Marie writes as Casey King, and you can follow her on Twitter @letstalkcrime.

Research is the joy and splinter of my writing. I love it, but sometimes it feels so tedious. I once spent an hour verifying that Dorothea is a popular name for Italian women in New Jersey over 90 years old. That took a few K-cups of coffee to get through. But it’s the gems, those little nuggets of information you stumble upon that shine up and make it all worth it.

What interesting things have you found during your research? I’d love to know…



  1. I love research! As one who writes historical, I find it everlastingly fascinating. Sadly I find it hard to resist diving down all the rabbit holes; after all, that tidbit MAY be useful for your next book! Its only when you really start to research properly do you realise exactly what you DON'T know.

    Heart of Stone is set in the Ireland of the 1740s. So what did the populace eat back then? In the countryside, oatmeal, potatoes and buttermilk, apparently. Who knew?

    1. I love research too! When I was working on the Cat Carlisle books, I stumbled across so many amazing things, such as cabinet minutes from the 1930s. But rabbit holes can certainly be an issue.

  2. I have to agree with Marie, professional people are, in general, very helpful when talking about their jobs. In fact many people are happy to share their memories of their childhoods and how things have changed. I think people should take the time to listen to the memories of the older generations before it is too late. Hearing about the past through lived experiences is more fascinating than you might at first think. Asking questions open up new memories and I have certainly learnt a lot this way.

    1. I agree! Oral story traditions are so important.

  3. Gosh Andie, what a fascinating story about Hitler and the bookstore. It tells us so much about that time... I don't write historical fiction, but I do love research and think it an essential part of a writer's job. Part of the joy of writing (and reading) is discovering more about the world, which is possibly why I'll never attempt a historical - I'd become lost in that rabbit hole forever!

  4. I found this personally interesting ... the bit about your research into how Germans felt about things during the war. Hannelore Mackenzie, who goes to the same writing group as I do, published her memoir, The Other Side, when she was 90. She was born in Leipzig in 1928. I will introduce her to your book. And so good to learn about another writer so thanks for introducing us to Marie.