Ridiculous things I’m researching for a novel

Really, it’s best if I just list them.

(Incidentally, if you own a copy of any of the books on this wishlist and wouldn’t mind letting me borrow it for a while, that’d be really lovely. I’m thinking of people who work – or have worked –  in PR, public health, counselling or politics here. Unfortunately, not working in those fields and having the salary to match, I can’t afford them at the moment, and trying to register at an academic library seems to be a bureaucratic process a branch secretary of the East German Communist Party would call a bit of a ball-ache. Some of them have multiple editions, it doesn’t matter if it’s not the most up to date one, it’s only for passing reference. In return, I can offer you…well, not a lot, probably, but a coffee and my scintillating company, certainly…)

  • As I’ve said before, Marriage. In general. At the moment, via a lot of American self-help books. Oh dear Lord, dying alone and being eaten by cats (or alsatians, or whatever the Bridget Jones line was) would be better than needing advice from these, surely?
  • Who made the cake for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding. I needed to know this to know whether it would be plausible for my characters to have had the same cake maker for their wedding, years prior. Apparently, yes, it would. And it was Fiona Cairns. Aren’t you glad you know that now? (I particularly like how the cake is described as “not ostentatious or grand”…)
  • PR/Communications, general and specific. Or “The Dark Side” as people in my line of sporadic work call it. Six years ago I did a Postgraduate Diploma in print journalism at an institution which also ran one in Public Relations (note past tense). My journalism tutors wound up the PR trainees so much the PR tutor refused to sit next to them at the faculty Christmas Party (there’s a very funny story attached to this involving a mock press conference exercise between the two diplomas, which the journalism trainees were encouraged to treat as a joke and entered dressed as clowns replete with Alan Partridge ringtones and fart machines…). In short, I don’t know very much about PR. What I do know is gleaned from a mixture of morbid curiosity, lunch/a 15-minute fluffy career Q&A with a couple of senior PRs, donkeys ago, and The Thick of It.” *  So, I gave one of my main characters a background in it. Obviously. And am now trying to learn PR equivalents of everything I’ve learned about journalism since I was 15 in four months. Yup.
  • Risk communication. You say sexy, I say “Natural frequency vs percentage data.” I’m Ben Goldacre with better hair.
  • Declaration etiquette for General Elections. One of the first things I researched, when I wrote the early part of the book as a screenplay for the Writers Room. This involved watching a lot of dour YouTube clips of 2010 election declarations in South West Chipping Buggery or somewhere. The actual declaration isn’t depicted, only referred to, in the book. Thankfully.
  • The workings of the Coalition/The Lib Dems post-2010 I’m not sure which is more masochistic, being a Lib Dem MP or writing about it.
  • Czech idioms Because having a mum who grew up next to the German-Czech border and can read it in a really convincing accent only gets you so far.
  • Attention Deficit Disorder A cousin of dyspraxia, so I know quite a lot about it already. And should’ve been diagnosed with it at the same time, if my internet activity is anything to go by. I mean, what normal human brain writes a novel whose research encompasses risk communication, Lib Dems and Royal wedding cake?

I’ve still got about four months’ worth of the novel to write so this list will be much added to, no doubt – assuming it doesn’t kill me first…

(* Vaguely-Interesting-Relevant-Fact fans: The bloke who played Stewart Pearson in The Thick of It – the cuddly Tory spin doctor with the glasses, based on Steve Hilton – runs a comms firm in real life, specialising in financial services and with several government departmental clients. I went for a job there a couple of years ago. Unfortunately they had one of those ‘creative’ recruitment processes with zany exercises, one of which was to bring in a sentimental object and talk about it for two minutes. I chose a publicity photo gifted to me by the first person I ever interviewed journalistically, when I was 17. After several days’ bedroom practice at trying to talk about it without sounding either like a banal goody-two-shoes, or a whackjob you wouldn’t offer a paper round to let alone a job in Comms, I conceded defeat…).

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2 thoughts on “Ridiculous things I’m researching for a novel

  1. As a former Lib Dem election agent, I can fill you in with details of Declaratiion Etiquette – the key point is that everybody knows the result before the declaration – candidates and agents go into a huddle with the returning officer, where (usually) he gives the provisional result and goes through spoilt ballots. Any specifics you want to know – just ask.
    David Laws wrote a book on the Coalition discussions, which illustrates the talks and the Lib Dem processes necessary to get it approved – 22 Days in May. (Probably available in charity shops!

  2. Academic library visiting rights shouldn’t be that bad; where have you tried? LSE library would probably do it for you (needs passport and recent bank statement for ID) and takes about 5 days to process. Or SOAS which you’ll have to wait till October for as they won’t process them at the start of new term, similar ID costs 100pa reference or 150pa borrowing.
    However, your nearest council library should (unless they’ve entered all out war with other libraries or something) be able to request all those books from either outside the county, or BL. They can also do third party requests to academic libraries iirc, though it helps if you speak to a librarian as a lot of assistants are not that keen on doing out of county loans let alone anything more onerous. This should cost you significantly less, oop ‘ere it’s £5 for out of county, but that’s less than £100 even if you need to get everything on your list.

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