WRITING TIPS: Evonne Wareham shares her research tips!
Over the past few weeks we've been delivering some great writing tips from authors such as Talli Roland and Mandy Baggot. This week, Never Coming Home author Evonne Wareham shares some advice on research.
Don't forget to check out our interview with Evonne, and your chance to win a copy of Never Coming Home.
Archives - just a lot of dusty old stuff?
Although I write contemporary romantic thrillers for Choc-Lit, with my other hat I'm a history student, spending a lot of my time in various kinds of UK archive. So this post is a suggestion - or a reminder - to fellow writers, of the potential of local archives in providing research material. The current interest in drawing up a family tree sends a lot of people to the old records, but it isn't just about births, deaths and marriages. Archives and Record Offices hold a wealth of papers. Some are very old, but there may well be some that would be of use to authors writing even about the more recent past. Archives get their material from all kinds of sources - there may be time limits controlling when official records are made public, but private or family papers might be available quite quickly, once someone decides to donate them. It's always worth thinking about. And you can't beat viewing and handling original documents to get a real feel of the past. (But take a hankie - there is dust too!)
- Personal papers - diaries and letters
- Records of organisations - these can be local businesses, sports clubs, youth groups
- Local 'official' records - which can included police logs, prison records, papers relating to schools and hospitals
- Council minutes - not as dreary as they seem. Councils employed people and bought things - so they can be a surprisingly good source for information on the wages for a clerk or the price of boots, if you need that sort of thing
- Ephemera - theatre programmes, tickets, menus, posters, ration books - they probably won't give you the whole plot and structure of your novel, but they are a wonderful way of making a direct connection to the past and imparting a real sense of authenticity
To make use of local archives in the UK, you'll probably need a reader's ticket, which will require proof of identity and address, and possibly having your photo taken. To protect the records you're only allowed to take a few items into the room with you - lockers are usually provided - and you have to write in pencil only. Some archives allow you to photograph items. Some run classes on things like reading old handwriting. Archive websites will usually give you an idea of what's on offer and on their requirements, as well as opening times and how to find them - you may even be able to search the catalogue of the records before you visit.
A source worth thinking about - and if you do - good hunting.