Questions, questions, questions: How I Research My Books

One of my lovely readers has sent me a whole raft of questions about how I write my books which I’m going to try to answer to the best of my ability. There are five or six of them and since she was kind enough to write, I’d like to do justice to them. I’m going to post the replies here . I hope you find them useful. And interesting, too.

The first question was about research. How extensively I do I research the events in my books and what resources do I use.

I do a lot of research. I generally have an idea of where I want to send my historians, and what will happen to them when they get there. From that starting point, I read around the subject, looking for info that will support the story. Sometimes, I find something that directly contradicts what I want to do and with a huge sigh and a quick curse, I have to abandon that particular storyline.

I use only a fraction of my notes, otherwise it’s too easy too sound like a history book, which I really don’t want to do at all. I want people to find History interesting. I know my treatment of events and people is very superficial, but I want to engage people’s interest, and if someone is keen enough to go on to read more after they’ve finished the book then that’s wonderful. From there, they may go to study further and, with luck, will find History as interesting as I do.

Unfortunately, the best resource of all, public libraries, are not available to me. No, I’ve not been banned – just to be clear. Most of my research is done online as I pursue various threads, wandering down interesting but irrelevant paths (I have no self discipline whatsoever), sometimes modifying my story as ideas occur. My sources range from published papers to Wikipedia and everything in between. I consult professional organisations where I can – the Richard III visitor centre were very helpful. I emailed a gas company about the best way to kill someone with an electric fire and once I’d reassured them I had no intention of doing any such thing, they were great. My technical advisor, Phillip Dawson, advises me on police and military procedures and the safety mechanisms of 9mm Glocks. The writer, Tom Williams was of huge assistance with The Stirrup Charge at Waterloo, in my new prequel The Very First Damned Thing. Even the House of Commons got in on the act when I contacted them to check whether women were allowed in public areas in the 19th century.

“I emailed a gas company about the best way to kill someone with an electric fire and once I’d reassured them I had no intention of doing any such thing, they were great.”

Research permeates every aspect of the St Mary’s stories. I can’t just say, ‘We ran up the staircase and opened the door at the top.’ because the century will define whether the staircase is of wood or stone. Is it a spiral? Which was does it spiral? Is the door at the top made of wood? Studded? Arched? What size? Must they duck to get through? The door latch – what style? Can it just be lifted or must they turn it as well?

The sad thing is that after all that, I hardly use any of it. You wouldn’t believe the amount of material I had on the War of Jenkins’ Ear and at the end of the day it was just a throwaway line somewhere and I never used any of it.

And9781783759705_FC it’s not just St Mary’s. When I wrote The Nothing Girl, I knew nothing of donkeys or LandRovers or how to get married in a Register Office or forensic accounting. And for A Bachelor Establishment, I spent days checking out Regency menus.
Really, when you think about it, my ignorance is boundless.

Anyway, I hope that answers the question about research and no one’s eyes are bleeding. I know I go on a bit. The next question is about the detail in my stories. Give me a day or so to put something together and thank you for sticking with me so far.

St Mary’s prequel The Very First Damned Thing is out next month on Audible.

TV or not TV?

I don’t suppose this will come as a surprise to those with a more balanced lifestyle than I enjoy, but blowing up your TV is not necessarily a Bad Thing. Indeed, the last Big Bang, some six months ago led to an instantaneous improvement both in sound and picture quality, so when, a couple of nights ago, there was a brief crackle, a bang and the smell of hot electrics (ring any bells?) I wasn’t that alarmed and waited for it to switch itself on and continue, better and brighter than ever.

Alas.

Far from being better and brighter, close inspection revealed to be – respectful pause – as dead as a doornail. I poked and prodded a couple of times but to no avail. I checked the fuse because I’ve been caught like that before. I switched it off and then back on again, thus utilising my entire technical repertoire. It remained obstinately dead.

A catastrophe, I thought, unable to imagine my days without Dr Who, The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family and Project Runway (don’t ask), but it wasn’t. Not by a long chalk.

Normally, I start writing around six in the morning and carry on until noon, have some lunch, watch a bit of TV and (shamefully) fall fast asleep, so that’s most of the afternoon gone.

Now – without a TV, lunch is over so much more quickly. I’m bright eyed and alert (like a Labrador in a dog food commercial). With nothing else to do, ideas are bubbling and I’m scribbling away – I’ve had an idea for a series of short stories – I’m putting together a sequel to The Nothing Girl – I’m cracking on with Lies, Damned Lies and History – I’ve done some work on my latest painting. I damned near got the vacuum cleaner out, but let’s not go mad.

Today, however, a charming young man appeared, clutching my now fully functioning TV. We’d had some small communication issues because it’s not a flat screen and initially, he hadn’t realised it was a TV, but all was happily resolved and I can, apparently, look forward to several more months happy viewing.

But do I want to? Do I revert to my old ways, waking around four in the afternoon, slightly chocolate smeared and staggering groggily around the house in search of tea? Or do I cover my TV with a tablecloth, stand a vase of flowers on it and continue with my new, productive, TV-free regime?

Actually, I think we all know the answer to that one.

 

Brand-new St Mary’s short story announced!

Accent Press are thrilled to announce the release of a brand-new Chronicles of St Mary’s seasonal short story – Ships and Stings and Wedding Rings. Check out the teaser below:

It’s Christmas again at St Mary’s and time for Max’s obligatory illegal jump. On this occasion, however, they’re right up against it.

A loaded gun has been left behind in Ancient Egypt and it’s up to them to retrieve it before anyone accidentally  blows their own head off, thus affecting the timeline for centuries to come.

And as if that’s not enough, someone (Max) has inadvertently poisoned Mr Markham.

It’s hot, they’re running out of supplies, they can’t find the gun, and it’s all going horribly wrong. Again.

Watch this space for more news about its upcoming release…

How I Was Published

Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St Mary Book 1)

Some time ago, I sat down and wrote a book. I’d always wanted to and suddenly finding myself with the time to do so, I thought I’d give it a go. I’d like to talk about my writing process on another occasion. Today’s blog is about how Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St Mary Book 1) was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public.

Actually, writing the book was the easiest part because now I had to find an agent.

I was under no illusions that it would be snapped up immediately, but after a while, it became very apparent that it wasn’t going to be snapped up at all. Every Monday morning I would sit down, select the next three agents on my list, and send them the appropriate files. The thing is – it takes forever. Some agents want three chapters, some two, some one. One wanted six! Some want a one-page synopsis, some two pages. Some want an author biography – some don’t. Every Monday I would assemble the appropriate files, tweak them appropriately, and send them off.

Time passed, I wasn’t getting any younger, and it seemed if I were ever to be published at all then it would be posthumously.

Then, one sunny day, I was tempted forth by friends who invited me out. Emerging, blinking, into the daylight, I allowed myself to be tempted to what turned out to be the luckiest lunch of my life.

These friends urged me to bypass the traditional agent/publisher route and try self-publishing. By this time, I was nearly half-way down my first glass of wine, and frankly, at this point, I would have agreed to anything, but in a fit of alcohol-induced recklessness I agreed to give it a go and could I have a top up, please.

It’s actually quite a simple process and I would urge anyone who thinks they may have a book in them to give it a go. I made the decision on the Wednesday, sent the files off to Smashwords and Amazon on the Tuesday, and was a published author by the following Friday.

I can’t tell you how it felt to see details of my book – MY BOOK – on Amazon. There was a picture of the cover, my name as author, a blurb – all of it just like a proper book.

At this point, I should say I never expected it would be a success. I honestly thought that it would disappear into some kind of Amazon Black Hole somewhere and that would be it, but I’d written the book I’d always wanted to write, and that was the important thing.

I’d contacted friends and family and estimated that if everyone bought a copy there was every chance my sales would reach double figures and every morning I monitored my Amazon spreadsheet, which was how I came to notice the discrepancy. According to their figures, I’d sold about three copies, but there were an awful lot of reviews on Amazon and they all said ‘Amazon verified purchase.’

In the end, I plucked up the courage and emailed Amazon, querying this discrepancy. If, at this point, they’d said, ‘Oh, we’re awfully sorry, your reviews belong to another Jodi Taylor,’ then I would have been upset but not particularly surprised. But they didn’t. A very nice lady gently pointed out I was looking at the wrong column and I actually had about 25,000 sales.

I had to have a serious lie-down.

I’m convinced it was because the book was free and I’m embarrassed to admit it was free only because I was too stupid to work out how to charge for it. I’m really not bright. And who knows – if I had charged the 99p per copy then maybe it really would have disappeared into the Amazon Black Hole. Anyway, the book went to Number One in the free charts and I opened my email one morning to find a message from Accent Press offering me a three-book contract.

At this point, I really should take a moment to thank them publicly. I know I maunder on about them, but they’ve never been anything other than supportive and brilliant, so thank you Accent Press.

I’m often asked if I have any advice for would-be authors and yes, I do.

Firstly, write your book. You’re not going anywhere until you do.

Secondly, if you’re going to select a pen name, don’t do it at a long, boozy lunch with friends when everyone knows you’re incapable of coherent thought after half a glass of wine. My first choice – Dirk Thrust – was unanimously rejected. Even by the waiter. When you have selected your pen name, GOOGLE IT FIRST so you don’t find yourself with the same name as the famous porn star.

And thirdly, if you do neglect this simple precaution, get someone to warn your mother so she doesn’t bring up the wrong website to impress her friends. No one was happy that day, believe me.

 

Jodi Taylor gets blogging!

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I’m a writer. You can tell by my vacant expression, the mountain of discarded chocolate wrappers, and my lack of social life.

However, these days, I’m an author, too. Let me go further – I’m an embossed author. Before anyone faints with admiration – although feel free if you wish – this only means that my name is embossed on the cover of my books. But – IN GOLD!

Anyway, last week as I was happily cursing my laptop for failing to remember my default font is Times New Roman, an email from my publishers, Accent Press – All Hail Accent Press! – thudded into my inbox. They’d had the happy thought that I might like to write a blog.

I have to say, I stared in perturbation for quite some time. I know I have a blog page somewhere, but it’s been years and I’d completely forgotten about it. I mean – why? I have a facebook page full of lovely people telling me how to get rid of ants, discussing who should play whom in the cracking film that Stephen Spielberg would undoubtedly make were he even slightly aware of my existence, and sending in photos of themselves at Comic Con.

Apparently, however, that’s not enough. I have to blog.

Self: I can’t remember how.

Accent: We’ll help.

Self: Aha! I don’t know my user name.

Accent: Here it is.

Self: I don’t know my passw-

Accent: Voila!

Self: But what would I blog about?

Accent: Anything.

Self: But nothing ever happens to me.

Accent: Um … you just went on a gulet cruise.

Self: But I was horribly seasick, fell down a flight of stairs, was eaten by a mosquito the size of a Cessna light aircraft and my shoulder is covered in suppurating blisters.

Accent: Exactly.

Self: Oh.

At this point, I should say that the gulet was beautiful, the food superb, the crew excellent and the scenery wonderful. It’s just that I don’t operate well when separated from my laptop and I’m not sure it would do my public image any good if that were widely known.

At this point, there was another Accent Intervention. Think Moses on Mt Sinai but slightly more impressive.

Accent: Here’s a list of appropriate subjects.

  1. How I was published.
  2. Where do I get my ideas from?
  3. How do I research?
  4. My writing process.

I’m still not convinced that making any of this information available to a breathless world is a good idea but I don’t want to upset Accent, because, according to the Accent Authors’ Dungeon Rota, I’m entitled to a thirty-second look out of the window the week after next and I wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardise that.

I shall, therefore, put the kettle on, sit down with a Twix and consider the series of unfortunate events, mistakes, drunken lunches and serendipitous accidents that clutter ‘My Path to Publication,’ which will appear next week. Possibly in Times New Roman but more probably not. I don’t like to push my relationship with my laptop too far. I cursed it one time too many and it maliciously deleted the very nearly completed No Time Like The Past – all 75 thousand words of it. So I tread carefully…

Just as a matter of interest, does anyone remember Barbara Woodhouse and her choke chain? Is there anyone out there who could do the same for my laptop?

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The Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylor

The Nothing Girl The Nothing Girl

Getting a life isn’t always easy. And hanging on to it is even harder…

Jodi Taylor brings all her comic writing skills to this heart-warming tale of self-discovery.

Known as “The Nothing Girl” because of her severe stutter and chronically low self-confidence, Jenny Dove is only just prevented from ending it all by the sudden appearance of Thomas, a mystical golden horse only she can see. Under his guidance, Jenny unexpectedly acquires a husband – the charming and chaotic Russell Checkland – and for her, nothing will ever be the same again.

With over-protective relatives on one hand and the world’s most erratic spouse on the other, Jenny needs to become Someone. And fast!

Fans of Jodi Taylor’s best-selling Chronicles of St Mary’s series will adore the quirky humour in this new, contemporary novel.

Just One Damned Thing After Another

Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St. Mary’s Series) Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St. Mary’s Series)

“History is just one damned thing after another” – Arnold Toynbee

A mapcap new slant on history that seems to be everyone’s cup of tea…

Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary’s, a different kind of historical research is taking place. They don’t do ‘time-travel’ – they ‘investigate major historical events in contemporary time’. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power – especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet.

Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document – to try and find the answers to many of History’s unanswered questions…and not to die in the process.

But one wrong move and History will fight back – to the death. And, as they soon discover – it’s not just History they’re fighting.

Follow the catastrophe curve from eleventh-century London to World War I, and from the Cretaceous Period to the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria. For wherever Historians go, chaos is sure to follow in their wake …