Researching and writing

Hi Folks

Do you ever get so involved with your research that the writing itself becomes just a bothersome chore that needs to be done? Normally I love to play with words, to juggle alliteration with assonance, to alternate short and long sentences and play with the meaning of names so that the characters in my fiction have a meaning beyond the obvious. But there are times when I have become fascinated by the process of research so that finding facts became more important than creating the book.

I operate in two spheres at present: Victorian Crime and the whaling industry. In A Burden Shared I mingled the two, and in A Sink of Atrocity I had half a chapter that highlighted the theft of a whale at sea. Cross writing between genres is an interesting side effect of research! In saying that, when I researched the police and burglary procedures for Burden I got so caught up in the archives and ancient files that I nearly forgot to emerge.

I did find a number of fascinating facts. The details of how the Victorian criminal operated was impressive, from cutting through ceilings to hiding in cellars for days, but the punishments they endured could be frightening. Transportation could mean anything from a chance for a new life in Australia to utter hell, with a life ordered by the lash and the chain gang. Wee boys as well as hulking youths could be birched for petty theft or acts of violence; prison could mean solitary confinement and years of utter silence as Authority played with the criminal’s mind, and the shadow of the gallows remained in the background: waiting.

What was the worst crime? Child abuse; then and now. What was the most sad? Women who killed their children out of despair, poverty or fear of the stigma of illigitimate birth. There was murder, of course, and theft, but strangely, there was also a fair amount of cannibalism. That was a strange thing: it seemed to be nearly accepted that if a ship went down, after a number of days in a small boat, the survivors could draw straws to see who would be first to be killed and eaten. I just had to use that!

In fact, I found so many facts and nuggets of information that I have the gist of another three or four books. All I need is the background story.. . and that will take more research of course!

Aye yours,





About malcolmarchibald

Happily married for 34 years to Cathy, I have three grown children and live in the depths of Moray in northern Scotland. I was educated in Edinburgh and Dundee and work as a lecturer in Inverness, while writing historical books, both fiction and fact.
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