GUEST POST: Research by Eric Brown

Written by / Guest Post

Risingshadow has the honour of publishing a guest post Eric Brown.

Eric Brown reviews for the Guardian and has written over fifty books. His latest novels are Jani and the Greater Game and, with Una McCormack, The Baba Yaga, the third book in the Weird Space series. (The press release for The Baba Yaga can be found below the guest post.)

Click here to visit the author's official website.

GUEST POST: Research by Eric Brown

I don’t do research for any of my novels or stories.

A part of me, as I typed the above, felt a sense of guilt. It’s the received wisdom these days – and, for all I know, always has been – that a fiction writers must assiduously research the background to their works in order to present a credible ‘world’ to their readers. After all, if you’re writing about a World War II fighter pilot, isn’t it wise to have read up on what it’s like to be a fighter pilot? And that goes for any other specialist profession or area of expertise, of course. To lend greater fidelity to one’s visions, research is essential.

Nevertheless, the idea of researching whatever I’m about to write about fills me with foreboding, and often works to kill a project stone dead before it’s even got off the ground. In my early days as a writer, I’d give in to this impulse and reads scads on whatever I was to write about – and the result was not, as I’d hoped, a work which embodied the epitome of a subject, a novel of which readers said, “Did you really trek from Kathmandu to Tibet, surviving a yak attack on the way...?” but an over-researched lump of stodge that was dead on the page and was bogged down with boring, factual info-dumps. You see, once you’ve done the research, it’s hard not to use it. (Try reading the novels of Arthur Hailey and Dennis Wheatley, if you don’t believe me.)

Over the years I’ve become so averse to doing any research that I think my subconscious filters out – at a very early stage – any nascent projects that might require research. So that what’s left, what rises to the surface of my consciousness, are projects which require no prior reading at all.

I’ve read loads of baloney about “Doing Your Research”, usually in writing manuals, or online – articles which encourage the beginning writer to research every aspect of what they’re writing about. This is all very well if you’re writing a historical novel, but even so I’d much rather encourage a writer to concentrate on more important aspects of fiction than factual verity – psychological fidelity, say, and the importance of plot mechanics. For most novels research – if it’s needed at all – is something that can be done when the important aspect of a book, the story and characterisation, are in the bag. Don’t put the cart before the horse.

Of course, when I’ve finished a couple of drafts of a novel, I’ll check a few facts. But the odd things is that I find, on looking back at the process of writing a book, that in many cases I’ve scored the red pen through these facts, having found that they’re not germane to the tale I’m telling.

Now... all the above is not to say that research is necessary in some cases, but I am saying that be careful not to over-research and laden your novel with indigestible wodges of fact.

I often wonder at my disinclination to do research, and I think it’s something to do with my aversion to the what is perceived as ‘fact’. What matter to me are not facts, but the truth as perceived by me, the author, and by my characters. I harbour the desire to one day write a short story in which everything in the tale is ‘wrong’ – everything – the facts are wrong, the physics are wrong, the science is wrong, even the grammar is wrong  – but the whole adds up to a startling, shining truth.

I’ve been thinking about this on and off of the best part of thirty years, and I still haven’t worked out quite how I’ll achieve the feat.

Press release

UK: 9781781083635 | 16 July 2015 | £7.99
US: 9781781083642 | 30 June 2015 | $7.99

Available in paperback and eBook

The epic space opera series continues in the latest standalone title in
The Weird Space world

The growing threat of the dimension-invading Weird has driven the Expansion government to outright paranoia. Mandatory telepathic testing is introduced, and the colony Braun’s World – following reports of a new Weird portal opening – is destroyed from orbit, at an unimaginable cost in lives.

Delia Walker, a senior analyst in the Expansion’s intelligence bureau and a holdout of the pragmatic old guard, protest the oppressive new policies and is drummed out. Sure there’s a better way, she charters the decrepit freighter the Baba Yaga and heads into the lawless “Satan’s Reach,” following rumours of a world where humans and the Weird live peacefully side by side.

Hunted by the Bureau, Walker, her pilot Yershov, and Fait – a Vetch child stowaway, fleeing slavery – will uncover secrets about both the Weird and the Expansion; secrets that could prevent catastrophic war...

Weird Space series creator Eric Brown takes to the skies for the last time in The Baba Yaga as he hands the helm over to New York Times Bestselling author Una McCormack in the next instalment of the fan-favourite series. McCormack brings her trademark style of balancing fast-paced action with an eerie elegance of prose to Brown’s epic space opera saga in the latest suspense-laden, intergalactic chase. Featuring a progressive and enthralling cast of characters living on the fringe of society in a world where authoritarian powers collide with anarchistic charters, McCormack and Brown have created a modern science fiction classic that will delight both fans of the series and those joining the world for the first time.

About the authors

Una McCormack is a New York Times bestselling author of novels based on Star Trek and Doctor Who. Her audio plays based on Doctor Who and Blake’s 7 have been produced by Big Finish, and her short fiction has been anthologised by Farah Mendlesohn, Ian Whates, and Gardner Dozois. She has a doctorate in sociology and teaches creative writing at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. She lives in Cambridge with her partner, Matthew, and their daughter, Verity.

Eric Brown
is the award-winning author behind a huge cannon of popular SF novels, including Helix, Engineman, Necropath and The Kings of Eternity, as well as many children’s books, radio plays and articles. He is a frequent contributor to The Guardian’s SF book reviews page and his previous novels have received national coverage.