Monday, 23 April 2012

Guest Blog Post with Liz Rettig, author of My Scorching Summer Diary


 It is with great pleasure to present a guest post from Liz Rettig, author of My Scorching Summer Diary, (my review is in the link) which is a hilarious read. Liz is down to earth and I'll leave the rest of the post to her. Thank you Liz for writing this! 

The Lazy Author’s Guide to Research.

Write what you know, aspiring authors are often told. Good advice, especially if, like me, you’re fairly lazy and very impatient so don’t fancy spending weeks, months, or even years, researching stuff for your book before you write a line.

So I try, for the most part, to write from experience. And (un?) fortunately I’ve had enough horribly embarrassing disasters in my life to write a book about it. So I did; several in fact, cunningly disguised as fiction. Sometimes though the storylines suggest that a bit of research might be in order. Like in my latest book, My Scorching Summer Diary, where seventeen-year-old Kelly Ann moves from Glasgow (my home town) to London to work in a hotel for the summer. I thought about taking a summer job in a sweltering hot kitchen at minimum wages for background research for a while – almost a nanosecond actually – before thinking, sod that, and who would want to employ me anyway? Besides, I’d been there, done that worn the sweaty T shirt already. Sort of.

You see, when I was just eighteen (a wee while ago – don’t ask) I headed south to the outskirts of London with my student pals to work in a holiday resort as kitchen assistants (a.k.a. skivvies, slaves). God, I remember it so clearly. Okay, well, not all of it clearly. As this was our first taste of freedom away from parents, we all soon established a routine of getting smashed every night at pubs and clubs then having to drag ourselves out of bed before dawn to clean, cook, and serve breakfasts to an ungrateful public.

My first task was to dispose of leftovers from the previous night’s meal – usually buckets containing a vomit inducing mixture of tomato soup, green beans and violent yellow custard. It didn’t help that the waste disposal machine noisily gnashed, slurped, and sucked the disgusting stuff down into its innards like a monster metal squid feasting on sick. Needless to say, in my hung over state, the contents of my stomach were often hurled into the mix. Next, I would have to scrub out pots the size of bath tubs, but much heavier, which had been soaking overnight. Happy days! Can you blame me for wanting to have a bit of fun after work? Well, that was my excuse anyway.

While this was close enough to hotel kitchen work, My Scorching Summer Diary is set in the centre of London, rather than the outskirts, but fortunately I know the city quite well as I lived there for a couple years in the past and have been on short trips since. And what I didn’t know or remember could usually be gleaned from travel guides, and Google Earth. But one scene in the book was a problem. I wanted Kelly Ann to chase a lad she believes has stolen her rucksack all the way along Euston underground to the northern line, where she boards a train, and finally gets off at Camden still in hot pursuit of her quarry. You see my difficulty. To make this authentic, I needed exact routes and timings along the passages and escalators in the bowels of London’s underground.

Luckily one of my nephews lives in London and he “volunteered” to check this out for me. Armed with notebook, stop watch and camera he recorded directions and times along the route. Unfortunately this odd behaviour aroused some suspicious looks and hostile attitude from fellow commuters. Fortunately he wasn’t arrested by anti-terrorist agents as his explanation –“just researching stuff for a chick-lit book, Officer” might have been viewed somewhat sceptically.

The only thing I had to research after that was the world of dance as Kelly Ann, the central character, is keen to find fame and fortune as a dancer. Now I just CAN NOT dance. Not really sure why, but maybe it has something to do with the fact that I have no sense of rhythm, timing, grace or style. Duh, d’yah think so? In fact I’ve even considered using my lack of talent in this area as a threat to get my kids to behave: “Right, if you don’t tidy up your room I’m gonna dance, I mean it.” Have even thought about threatening the nuclear option, that is, doing my Beyoncé impression in front of all their friends unless they get off facebook and do their homework. But I didn’t have the heart. It would have been just too cruel.

So, faced with a total lack of expertise and knowledge about dance, I turned for advice to my agent’s lovely wife who used to be a dancer (can you see a pattern here of totally using everyone else to do my research for me?)and of course, YouTube. God, what fun I had watching amazingly talented modern dancers curl, bend, twist and stretch themselves into impossible, but beautifully elegant, positions all in perfect harmony with the music. So much fun in fact that I nearly didn’t make the deadline for handing in the manuscript to my publishers as I would spend hours every day happily viewing clips and, I must admit, occasionally getting up and gyrating along to the music. Authors beware! Research can get quite addictive. And sometimes dangerous. A word of advice: do not try to do a dramatic side fall near an ironing board complete with plugged in hot iron unless you are a lot more co-ordinated than me.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some types of books which demand lots of research - like historical novels for instance. Also, hats off to authors who are prepared to do stuff like live in Afghanistan as a goatherd for a year to make a chapter in their book truly authentic. But that’s not me. I prefer to create my stories using personal experience and a bit of imagination. Write about what you know. Good advice for lazy authors!

You can find out more about Liz on her website.

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