Archives for On Researching

Reading for research: Blue-Eyed Son

The story of Nicky Campbell’s search for his birth parents had me hooked from the beginning. Blue-Eyed Son is a personal story but everyone will be able to identify with his themes of family love, the need for belonging and a clear sense of identity. Nicky Campbell is a broadcaster and knows how to tell a story well. He charts the ups and downs of his search for his birth mother and father, the agonies of deciding to search, the worries about whether he was betraying his adoptive family. He shares the pain, the anticipation of making that first contact: “She [his wife Linda] stood in the hall and dialled the number. I was sitting on the stairs, rigid with fear, my head buried in my hands, my body folding into a foetal position. I really didn’t think I could go through with it. I was petrified and exhausted. What the hell would I say? What the hell do you say? This woman gave birth to me. I needed an epidural. “I had held this fantasy in my head for years. I had a mental picture of a beautiful but driven career woman – a free spirit who found herself in
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Categories: Adoption and On Researching.

Reading for research: Lucky Kunst

I admit to a wry chuckle as I see the double-takes from my fellow passengers on the Easyjet flight from Malaga to Gatwick. My reading material for the 2 ½ hour flight is Lucky Kunst: The Rise & Fall of Young British Art by Gregor Muir. I’m still researching for my second novel, Connectedness. I’ve come to Malaga to tread in the footsteps of my character, artist Justine Tree, as she treads in the footsteps of Picasso.‘Freeze’, the 1988 art exhibition held by 16 Goldsmiths art students in a London Docklands warehouse and organised by Damien Hirst, first launched the yBa’s into the fusty art world. It wasn’t until 1992 thought that Charles Saatchi introduced the phrase ‘Young British Art’ with his exhibition. From then on, the 1990s were the time of Cool Britannia when artists and pop singers were invited to 10 Downing Street. This is Justine’s time too.I made Justine older than Hirst, Emin, Whiteread, Lucas etc. She graduates from art college in London in 1984 and is noticed by Charles Saatchi in 1993 when he anonymously buys three collages from her collection ‘Blues I, II & III’. In 1997 he exhibits two pieces from Justine’s next collection, ‘The
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Categories: My Novel: 'Connectedness', On Researching and On Writing.

My favourite writing notebooks

I am quite particular about my writing notebooks. I can’t be without a stack of pristine Muji notebooks. There’s something about the uniformity of the covers, the satisfaction of a pile of used notebooks collected together with a rubber band in the cardboard box I keep for all notes pertaining to my current novel. Everything gets tossed into this box, pages torn from newspapers or magazines, scenes with feedback notes from my writing friends, old photographs, photocopies of pages from books, maps, leaflets from places I’ve visited for research. Inside my Muji I guess the contents are like anyone else’s writing notebook – random ideas, character sketches, research notes from books, first drafts and re-drafts of scenes, diagrams for plot development, even poems if the mood strikes me. My friends and family know I love notebooks too, so my cupboard is full of pretty ones received as birthday or Christmas presents. They all know the most important element – no spiral-bindings, they must be saddle-stitched so the notebook can be opened flat and I can write comfortably from the left edge to the right edge of the page. The notebook comes into its own on days when it seems impossible
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Categories: On Researching and On Writing.

My favourite library… The British Library

I only visited the old British Library, when it was at the British Museum in Bloomsbury, once. When the plan to move to a new building St Pancras was mooted in the late 1970s, I was a student at Goldsmiths’ College, University of London. I saw the plans of the architect, Colin St John Wilson, and it was a case of instant dislike: all that red brick. Brutalist architecture, not my favourite. But I have an inbuilt love of all libraries.Now the building has mellowed and so have I. Now that I’ve been there, worked there, spent many days there all day, I have fallen in love with it. The quiet of the reading rooms [my favourite is Humanities One], the excellence of its systems, the large workstations… The British Museum’s Department of Printed Books was founded in 1753. From its inception it had the privilege of legal deposit, giving it the entitlement to a copy of most items printed in the UK: books, periodicals, newspapers, maps and printed music. Space was always a factor, with the storage of newspapers being moved early in the 20th century to the British Library Newspapers at Colindale. The building survived bombs dropped by
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Categories: On Researching and On Writing.

My favourite library… Hunmanby Library

Sadly, my childhood library at Hunmanby, North Yorkshire, closed in 2012. The property was sold in February not, as first feared, to a housing developer, but to a local businessman who plans to move in his existing company. Local councillor Michelle Donohue-Moncrieff was relieved that the property had been bought by someone local who planned to use the existing building, rather than demolishing it to make way for nine new homes. Hunmanby Library was a magical place for me, before its opening I had been used to visits to the village by the library van. Eight local libraries were threatened with closure in 2012 under North Yorkshire County Council’s plan to save £70m. Despite efforts by volunteers in Hunmanby, it was the only library of the eight not to find a workable solution. The village was promised fortnightly visits from the Supermobile library van. This completes the circle for me. I have clear memories as a young child, long before the existing library was built in Stonegate, climbing up the steep steps into the back of the library van to choose a book. But how can a fortnightly visit replace a bricks-and-mortar building? This was the wrong decision. And if
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Categories: Book Love, On Researching and On Writing.

My favourite library… The London Library

Every time I go to The London Library, it feels like an enormous treat. Why? Well for one, it’s a private library and there is a membership fee which I feel I must justify by regular use. But mostly it feels like a treat because it feels like a library should. It is hushed, the bookshelves are full, floor to ceiling. It has one million books dating from the 16th century to today. I have my favourite workstation, except it’s just a ledge beside a window looking across the rooftops of St James, where no-one else ever seems to walk by. Sometimes I go to collect a book I have ordered online, sometimes I go to research something specific, sometimes I just go to browse. I always seem to leave with at least one book, whether I planned to or not.   ‘Possession’ by AS Byatt [UK: Vintage] And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: My favourite library…@TheLondonLib http://wp.me/p5gEM4-la via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love, On Researching and On Writing.

Reading for research… Tracey Emin: My Life in a Column

I bought this book in the gift shop at the Hayward Gallery in London after Emin’s ‘Love is What You Want’ exhibition in 2011. My Life in a Column is a collection of the columns written by artist Tracey Emin for The Independent newspaper over four years. I picked it up because a) I remembered reading some of the original columns and finding them amusing, and b) at that time I was toying with the idea of making a character in my new novel a controversial artist. So who better as a role model then Tracey Emin? The book turned out to be so much more than the controversy linked with Emin by people who don’t know much about her. I found her fascinating, the highs and lows of her creative process were a great inspiration for my character Justine Tree in Connectedness. She writes: “Faced with the daily prospects of failure and self-loathing, a numb chrysalis starts to develop around you, and if you are not careful you wake up one morning to find yourself not awake, but in a semi-comatose state, baked into a hardened shell, breathless and mind-numbing. You have to poke your finger through the hardened
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Categories: On Researching and On Writing.

Reading for research – Forgotten Voices

Coffee at Costa today, not tea. A medium soya wet latte with an extra shot. My regular morning drink which the staff know by heart. Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon.  I picked up a great book in the British Heart Foundation shop. Forgotten Voices of the Blitz and the Battle of Britain by Joshua Levine, in association with the Imperial War Museum. It is a compilation of oral and written memories and, like the other book I’ve just finished reading Young Voices: British Children Remember the Second World War by Lyn Smith, the voices of real people vividly bring their stories to life. I’m particularly interested in the Auxiliary Units which were set up throughout England in case of invasion. I’d love to visit one of the underground bunkers. It sounds like a Boy’s Own story, a secret hideout hidden in a field, bunks and a stove, going out in the dark to sabotage the Germans. It’s the sort of story I grew up with, raised during the Sixties on a diet of Alistair Maclean books, The Dambusters film and the TV series The World at War.   ‘Forgotten Voices of The Blitz and the Battle for Britain’ by
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Categories: On Researching.

Reading for research… The Yellow House

I love doing background research for my novels, I guess that’s the journalist in me. With hindsight, I researched my first novel Ignoring Gravity too much, I didn’t recognise the point at which I knew enough and when to let my imagination take over. I was reading about adoption, something I haven’t experienced myself and know no-one who has. So I turned to books [a typical reaction for me]. As a reader, I hate writers who put all their research onto the page. Needless to say, a lot of the stuff I put in the first draft, was stripped out later. Martin Gayford is an art writer I turn to. My second novel Connectedness is three-quarters written and the researching process was much briefer. It is a sequel to the first book, so still about adoption, but this time I decided to make my new main character an artist. Because… I love art, but what knowledge I have is self-taught and disconnected. So, it was an opportunity to learn. And I have loved the process, going to galleries and exhibitions, trying to paint watercolours, and reading, always reading. The most dramatic art book I have read by far is The
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Categories: On Researching and On Writing.

Reading for research… Young Voices

As research for the next novel, I’m reading a lot about the Second World War. For a while I’ve been working my way through a fascinating book called Young Voices by Lyn Smith, produced with the Imperial War Museum. I picked it up in my local library. It is an account of children’s experiences during the war. I’m particularly interested in children who lived through Occupation and there are children quoted throughout who grew up Guernsey. One woman tells how it became compulsory at school to learn the German language. One day the German kommandant arrived to present a prize, which she as top of the class in German, was to receive. He asked her a simple question in German, ‘how old are you?’ Her brain froze and she couldn’t answer, terrified she was going to be shot. Someone whispered the question again in English, and the girl was able to answer correctly. The prize? A book in German which she was unable to read. Fascinating stuff, don’t know yet how I am going to use any of this. I enjoy researching my next novel while writing the current one. Sometimes it just gives the brain a rest, a new
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Categories: On Researching and On Writing.

Reading for research: Man with a Blue Scarf

I am writing this in Spain where our internet connection has been intermittent for the last few days. We live in such a rural place that our telephone and internet are by satellite not land line and both are unpredictable. So, unable to blog, there should be no feasible distractions from the process of writing. The weather here is foul – cold and wet, yes in Andalucía! – so I hunker down in front of the fire with a book that’s been sitting on my bookshelf here for a while. I’m reading about art and artists, as on-going research for my current novel, Connectedness. Having read last summer The Yellow House by Martin Gayford, the story of Van Gogh’s stay at Arles in the South of France when he painted the Sunflowers series, I would read anything he writes. Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud is a diary kept by Gayford as he sat for a portrait in Freud’s studio from 2003-2005. The book made headlines when published in 2010 because Freud was initially dissatisfied with the portrait. He couldn’t get the blue of the scarf right. Gayford finally admitted there were two scarves he
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Categories: Book Love, On Researching and On Writing.