I agree with… Sarah Hilary

Sarah Hilary “I find research can become an obsession – and a distraction – when I’m supposed to be creating a story. That said I would never attempt a novel that touches on issues which affect so many lives without taking account of the facts and the true stories that inspire/inform the fiction.”
[in an interview with ‘We Love This Book’ magazine]

Sarah Hilary

[photo: Matthew Andrews]

Debut novelist Sarah Hilary, whose first novel Someone Else’s Skin is the first in the DI Marnie Rome series, has the same problem I do. Research, too much of it.

Is it essential, yes. Does it add to the story, yeesss. Can it distract from the story, yes and no. All writers have to find their own way of researching: how to, when to, how much to. Some writers I guess have a problem starting. I’m like Sarah Hilary in that I enjoy researching, I get caught up in the subject, and want to continue. I have got better at recognising the danger point, when to start writing.

The biggest problem I have with research is actually as a reader, when the novel I am reading bears its research too heavily on the page. The author’s control was too loose so there is that ‘and another interesting fact’ scenario which distracts from the story.

I’ve found a big advantage in writing a series of novels about Rose Haldane, family history detective, in that the core research was done for the first novel. I read and read about adoption, family history, identity etc. Now my research is focussed on the storyline of each new book, for Connectedness that meant exploring the art world, the creative process, the materials used, the methods of working, the inspirations, the hang-ups, the training.

The art research is addictive, I still tear out interesting articles from magazines and request books from the library. Really, I should be writing book two and researching book three.

To read the full interview with Sarah Hilary at We Love This Book, click here.
Check out Sarah Hilary’s blog, click here.
Read my review of No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary.

If you agree with Sarah Hilary, perhaps you will agree with:-
Karen Maitland do your research, then set it aside
Sofie Gråbølalways look for the weak side of a character, for the dark side
Rachel JoyceI have to have faith in good stories and good characters winning through

Sarah Hilary


‘Someone Else’s Skin’ by Sarah Hilary [UK: Headline]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Research can become an obsession: I agree with… @sarah_hilary http://wp.me/p5gEM4-YV via @SandraDanby #amwriting


  1. Being carried away – this has happened more than once. One interesting fact leading to the next. The gathered information I do not need for the current project is saved in an ‘idea tank’ folder. Whenever inspiration hits, I am prepared – until the next research is required.

    • I admit to always looking around me for ideas and squirreling them away for future books, always something I am interested in so I will enjoy the research. 🙂 SD

      • The notebook industry and search engines should start sponsoring writers.
        I truly enjoy researching and gathering ideas. OK 🙂

  2. To be honest I think I’d fail the research test, so I stick to subjects and scenarios where none is required. If I stuck one of my protagonists inside a nuclear laboratory, there would be so many factual errors, the book would not even survive the briefest examination by reviewers

    • Well I think there is some truth in write what you know. My research tends to be around particular characters, their job for example, the world they move in. But I confess to giving them jobs I’m interested in! SD

  3. The issue of research is such a fine line. I’ve always wanted to write a historical novel, but the amount of research required scares me away from the idea.