Is Researching a Book Better than Sex?

Some authors say that research is the best bit about writing. I’ve never believed that. What’s so great about spending long hours in the stacks at the library, or ages trawling the internet to find out what people had for dinner in 17th century Crete?

reference library

But now that I write fiction, research has taken on a whole new hue. I wouldn’t say it’s better than sex, even if in some cases it IS sex. Here’s a rundown of some recent endeavours.

1 Intel gathering for a steamy bathroom scene.

steamy bathroom scene

Is it possible for the earth to move while scrubbing lime-scale off the taps?  Everything had to be just so: a non-slip bathmat, a filthy dirty bathtub (this takes months), and of course the right bathroom cleaner.

Cillit Bang

2 The front seat of the Mini scene. If a couple feel inclined to bonk in their Mini near a lighthouse in Norfolk, can they do so without tearing an Armani suit or a ligament? We may never know for sure. Thanks, man who rapped on the window to say, “Ere, lost me mobile. Can I borrow yours?”

Mini Cooper S

3 The Gents at the hospital. There’s a scene in my work-in-progress where a character has to rinse his tackle in the loo at Watford General Hospital. I couldn’t do this one on my own, but the great thing about being married is all those vows. My other half is an honest guy, so he takes such things seriously.

However, it proved not to be so simple. The water was either freezing cold or boiling hot, and the hand dryers were at the wrong height. Besides, who’d actually dip his bits into a Dyson Airblade?

Dyson Airblade hand dryer

4 Undercover underwear work. Hopefully this quiet day would keep me on the right side of the law. St Michael may be the patron saint of underwear. They’ve even made briefs with the word Gentleman woven into the elastic, just like the Diesel ones say Diesel. But John Lewis has the range of men’s kecks I needed for my research. So there I was, checking out the feel and, more important, the scent of the fabrics used in boxers, briefs, budgie-smugglers, front-loaders, posing pouches and thongs.

Pierre Cardin knitted briefs

As I crumpled the waistbands and studied the gussets, I managed to side-step six shop assistants, or, as John Lewis calls them, partners. Unfortunately I didn’t spot one of my patients who was shopping for Y-fronts. He caught me with my nose up a pair of Calvin Klein trunks (low-rise, if you want to know). It’s funny, but he hasn’t made an appointment to see me since.

5 Bridge over troubled water. It used to be so easy to climb in and out of King’s College, Cambridge after the back gate was locked.

King's College Cambridge bridge (1819)

But what about now, after they’ve added extra ironwork as a deterrent?  As I found out, there’s a very real risk of losing your footing and falling into a deep and murky ditch, especially if you’re 40 years older than the last time you did this.

I tried to think calming thoughts.

Keep Calm.You're in Cambridge

This is hard when a couple of tourists are standing over you, offering to ring an ambulance. A passing medical student thought an air ambulance would be more appropriate. Perhaps he hoped Prince William might pitch up.  What got me out of the ditch in the end was a snooty college porter, incensed that I was doing my research on his patch.

6 An overnight stay in a bookshop.

bookshop

Luckily I didn’t have to do this myself, or enlist any of my family, as an American tourist did exactly that in late 2014.

Right. That’s it. From now on, I’m doing all my research on Twitter. Though I will miss my husband.

***

I’ll be at the Indie Author Fair at Foyles, Charing Cross Road on April 17, and so will lots of other authors. Why not come in, see their books, and maybe ask them about their research? The event is free.

Indie Author Fair

Advertisements

Something Special for the Bedroom

Everyone knows you need a sexy bedroom.  So Laure is off to the sales.  There are acres of bedlinens on offer, she realises as soon as she hits John Lewis, but which is going to have the right effect?

Laure is one of the characters from my new novel One Night at the Jacaranda.  She doesn’t normally have trouble making up her mind, but this purchase, she senses, could be crucial.

Back in her student days, it never mattered what the bedroom looked like.  While she’d hankered after a nice set from BHS, her mother packed her off to uni with some hand-me-downs embellished with touches of Tesco Value.  So in her first term Laure’s bed had looked like this:

Did her mother think teh ensemble would work as a chastity belt?

Did her mother think the ensemble would work as a chastity belt?

One orange bedspread. God knows which part of the attic it had been in.

Navy print sheets that were fitted but didn’t quite fit (‘But they’re very nice,’ said her mother. ‘They’re Laura Ashley, darling.’)

A couple of flowery pink pillow-cases because the rest of the navy ones couldn’t be found anywhere.

One weird turquoise duvet cover that should have gone crying and screaming all the way back to the 1970s.

The effect was so loud Laure couldn’t sleep.   Good job that wasn’t what she’d gone to uni for.

So she’d had turned the lights low and painted the walls dark.  Even lighting reminiscent of Luton bus depot couldn’t dampen youthful enthusiasm.  In those days, a pretty undergrad needed romantic lighting and designer bedlinen as much as she needed expensive perfume, which was not at all.  Laure could have dabbed cat’s piss behind her ears and still pulled.

These days it was another story.  She could afford anything but couldn’t get it right.   The past few years had seen a succession of different sheets and covers.  There’s been more variety in her bedlinen than in her men.

Today there was a lovely pinky-purple set on display.  Too girly, maybe?

pink bed

The patriotic look probably appealed to lots of men.  She wasn’t sure it was for her.  Too masculine.  With possible political overtones.

Union Jack bedding

She moved on.  There was always the innocent girl-next-door look like this one, the snag being that she didn’t fancy her neighbour.

the girl next door look

Perhaps she should she go for all-white bedding?

white bedding in a grey room

She walked around the display, twice. Sat on the edge. Languidly removed a shoe, then put it back on again when a couple stopped to stare at her.

The coordinated threads did look rather splendid, with a calm sophisticated presence that would reflect her good taste. Yes, that was the one.  Delighted with her choice, she filled the shopping basket: sheets, duvet cover, pillow cases, a throw and handful of small cushions.

Only when she exited with her bags into the cold air of Oxford Street and the hordes of other shoppers did she wonder:  what if the tea got spilled?