Today I’m pleased to welcome Jane Isaac to the blog. Jane is the author of An Unfamiliar Murder, The Truth Will Out, Before It’s Too Late and Beneath the Ashes and her latest novel, The Lies Within was published by Legend Press on 2 May 2017.
Jane has kindly written a guest post about research.
That All Important Research
Thank you so much for inviting me onto your lovely blog today!
It’s no secret that research is one of my favourite aspects of writing a novel. I’ve always been a great fan of studying, a perennial student in many respects, undertaking courses in a plethora of different subjects over the years including law, pottery; even sign language. Like studying for a new course, novel research can be a huge learning curve and it’s interesting what direction it can take.
I’ll never forget the wet Wednesday afternoon when I phoned Rutland Mini’s to find out how to remove the door panel of a Mini, and how much storage space was available behind. It was truly one of those cliché moments, when the poor owner’s voice became more and more suspicious as the questions progressed. Luckily this was for my second book, The Truth Will Out, and once he’d checked out my website and was satisfied I was an author and had a legitimate reason for asking(!), he couldn’t have been more helpful.
It seems no matter what novel I’m working on, every one requires an element of research. There are the obvious things like building characters. Most writers are great people watchers. We observe the world around us, picking up little traits: the man in the cafe with the six o’clock shadow, the perfectly manicured mum at the school gates, the child with the tuft of hair that sticks up around his crown – all quirks that help us to build the characters in our fiction and make them ‘real’.
Of course, my books are detective fiction and require lots of conversations with police officers about their roles, their aspirations, the politics of the organisation, as well as procedural research. I’ve been very fortunate to have spent time with a former detective superintendent who managed murder squads all over the UK during his 30 year career and who has now become a dear friend. Boy, does he have some tales to tell! Then there are all the books about serial killers and psychopaths – the real case studies that keep me awake at night and haunt my dreams.
Obviously setting plays a huge part. The DI Jackman series is largely set in Stratford upon Avon and we’ve had more than our fair share of family weekends away in Stratford over the past few years. Luckily it houses my husband’s favourite Thai restaurant, and my daughter adores the shops there, although I think they were both quite relieved when I moved Jackman on location to Market Harborough in The Lies Within so that we had somewhere new to explore! Market Harborough is a beautiful historical market town in Leicestershire, surrounded by rolling countryside and the perfect backdrop for a murder mystery.
There’s the more specific research too. One of my main characters in Before It’s Too Late, Min Li, was a Chinese student, studying at Stratford College. I needed to get underneath her skin and learn about Chinese Culture: what enticed her to study in England; the cultural differences she faced. I was very lucky to be introduced to the International Student Liaison Officer at Northampton College who helped me tremendously in this respect.
For Beneath the Ashes, fire research led me to a number of meetings with local fire fighters who explained how the structure of buildings, the use of accelerants and environmental factors all affect how fires spread. What I discovered there was that fires don’t necessarily cause the type of damage you would expect!
In The Lies Within, there’s a spell in prison and several court room scenes. I managed to get a tour of Bedford Prison which was fascinating, and certainly informed the layout in my book, and spent quite some time in Criminal Court Number 3 at Leicester Crown Court, learning how the courts worked. I suppose I should be thankful that this was the first time I’d ever set foot in either a prison or a court room, but I was thrilled to be afforded these opportunities.
Often such information provides background material which never appears in the novel, or only converts to a couple of lines. Sometimes it’s edited out. But, in my mind, it informs the story at some level and is all part of the journey of writing a book.
I’m now embarking on a new project and looking forward to what research this one will bring.
About the book:
Be under no illusions by her kind face and eloquent manner… This woman is guilty of murder.
Grace Daniels is distraught after her daughter’s body is found in a Leicestershire country lane. With her family falling apart and the investigation going nowhere, Grace’s only solace is the re-emergence of Faye, an old friend who seems to understand her loss.
DI Will Jackman delves into the case, until a family tragedy and a figure from his past threaten to derail him.
When the police discover another victim, the spotlight falls on Grace. Can Jackman find the killer, before she is convicted of a crime she didn’t commit?
About the author:
Jane Isaac lives with her husband, daughter and dog, Bollo, in rural Northamptonshire.
Her first novel, An Unfamiliar Murder, was published in the US in 2012 and was nominated as best mystery in the ‘eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook awards 2013’. Jane is also the author of The Truth Will Out, Before It’s Too Late and Beneath the Ashes, published in the UK by Legend Press. The Truth Will Out, was selected ‘Crime Thriller of the Month by EThriller.com and ‘Noveltunity Book Club Winning Selection’.
Jane’s next novel The Lies Within – the third in the DI Will Jackman series – will be published by Legend Press on 2nd May 2017.
Follow Jane on Twitter @JaneIsaacAuthor