Researching The Rising Tide

I have often been asked how I carry out the research for my books and where the ideas for the stories come from. The simple answer is that I managed to pick a very crowded period of British and European history which meant that there is a ready source of subjects to choose from. Not only that but much scholarly material and original documents of the period are readily available to those prepared to search for them. This applies as much to the story in The Watermen which had as its background, the Irish rebellion of 1798 and the consequences of that event for those living and working in London, as the second book – The River of Fire – which concentrated on the threat posed by the war with France.

The solid bulk of my research – covering the formation of the river police and the prevailing social  and economic conditions of the period – was completed before ever I set pen to paper. In those early days I knew only that I wanted my stories to be about the Thames police in the first years of their existence . But finding out about life at the bottom of the social ladder in the 18th Century was a little more tricky. It involved a vast amount of reading of original documents at the National Archives in Kew and the many and varied museums throughout London. The reading provided the basic body of information which, together with my own experience of the Thames and of policing, allowed me the confidence to begin writing.

Inevitably questions of detail, perhaps relating to procedure or construction, would arise for which I did not have the answer. The temptation is always to reach for the Internet. It is a valuable source of information and one I frequenty make use of. But there has always, for me, been another source of knowledge without which a great deal of the fine detail of an event would be missing. That source is the expert in his or her own field. Whether I’m writing about ordering a new suit, a medical procedure, the discharge of a firearm, or the use of French Revolutioary coinage, talking to an expert gives me the ability to sound as if I know what I’m talking about.  In The Rising Tide, for instance, I was fortunate to be able to visit the two museums on the island of Barbados and to speak to the curators about the problems of slavery. The visit also allowed me to see the island and describe it in a way that would not otherwise have been possible. And lengthy conversations with an expert on 18th Century English law permitted me talk about real court cases involving slaves in England in the detail that would have been very difficult if culled from a book.

What it boils down to is that research never actually stops. As the book takes shape and grows, lots of incidents crop up for which solutions are required. In many, many cases, that involves stopping, going back through research notes or searching through literature to find a way through the problem. It’s a huge part of the enjoyment of being a writer.

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