Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy research. But I have a tendency to get bogged downed and a little lost in it at times and with this latest book, time is something not on your side. When I began to think about where to start I got some good leads for experts and websites etc but I wanted to do something different, something that seemed a little easier and a little more fun. When I think about men and their ships, besides Master and Commander, the one thing that comes to mind is Hornblower.
I really enjoyed the A&E rebroadcast of the British series based on the Hornblower novels of C. S. Foster. And I’m a huge fan of Ioan Gruffudd, the star. I mean he’s gorgeous and from Cardiff, Wales which attracts the Sci Fi geek in me to no end. ;) I looked up the time period and it’s only about fifty years or so later than our book but it is the British navy at war and not a Dutch based Caribbean merchant ship. But I thought, how different can the basics of sailing be? (For those about to tell me, I know the later ships had copper bottoms which was a significant change.)
I thought, wouldn’t watching twelve hours of one of my favorite actors playing a daring hero be so much more fun than stuffy old historical tomes or dry websites build by sailing fanatics talking over my head? Besides even Hemingway was a fan of C. S Foster, how much more highly recommended can something get.
But let me come clean here. I knew I was kidding myself. I knew it was a cop out and that I was just using the research thing as an excuse to watch a program I enjoyed and an actor I think is hot. I was positive I wasn’t getting any work on the book done by watching them. Yet watch them and enjoy them once again I did, in the span of a week or so.
But a funny thing happened when we got to the first chapter aboard ship. I knew things. I felt things. I had a really good sense of the moods aboard ship and the nature of the interactions between the crew. I had no problem imagining how our hero and captain would react in a certain situation because I knew exactly how he felt. I didn’t even have the think twice about how a certain conversation would be more businesslike and less friendly despite the jovial relationship between the characters. Damn if I didn’t learn some valuable things that really did help with the writing.
That’s not to say book research isn’t extremely important. The research B has done about when and how to use sextants, octants and chronometers and how to properly stock and arrange a captain’s cabinet are crucial to the story.
But those very necessary facts and the history in your story come to life when you can set an accurate mood as well. When you can get deeper into building the proper atmosphere in which to set your story it will be all the richer in the reader’s mind.
So next time you have some research to do, hit the non-fiction books and websites for the facts but try to find other forms of fiction and even personal narratives to find the feel of the period too. That’s what I did and got to have fun doing it too!