Research begins at home

Granada from the Alhambra Palace

Research is the process of investigating and learning about, that which is not already familiar. But sometimes we don’t appreciate how much we already know about a subject because we overlook personal experiences as fruitful sources of material. How does it feel to be in a square in an Andalusian city in the middle of siesta with no shade, aching feet, and a raging thirst? What does being up in the mountains with the breeze caressing the wild herbs smell like? With the right triggers I can describe the essence of those fleeting moments and through reliving those memories, write about them with freshness and immediacy.

Everyone always tells you to “write about what you know” but you are severely limiting yourself if you take that advice to refer to the immediate realities of your life. Look further. Expand your mind to include everything you have ever thought or said or done or wished for or dreamed about or lusted after or have a vivid recollection of observing. Because a story’s one true purpose is to enable the reader to feel the emotion of it; to step into the shoes of the characters and to walk that famed mile as if they were them. And you are the only person who knows what emotions feel like from the inside, right? My shame isn’t your shame, my joy won’t be experienced the same way yours is, and you and I can never share exactly what it feels like to fall in love because we will each have taken a different path to get to that point.

So choose wisely, and choose smart, and never, ever throw old stuff away (only joking about that one). I once owned some ruins in Sierra Nevada Mountains and so it was common sense to set A Fatal Rhythm (the first novel in my Dance Quartet) in the Moorish city of Granada, rather than anywhere else in Spain, because of the opportunities I’d have to explore where I wanted my characters to discover themselves.

The Alhambra Palace

By the time I started researching in earnest, summers spent writing on a rooftop overlooking the gorge where golden eagles spiralled in courtship had been brought to an abrupt halt, but I still had boxes of old photographs and the journal I had kept sporadically; along with a host of bitter-sweet memories that were close to the surface if I allowed myself to go there. And the authenticity of my writing demanded that I did.

Farming in the hills of Granada