Friday 22 February 2013

Getting away from my mobile phone

Blackpool Sands
I've been in Devon this week with my family where we made the most of crisp winter days with blue skies. We stayed in a thatched cottage in a remote village with views of the River Dart. En route when looking for services, we were pleased to spot a brown sign for Stourhead House, a stunning Palladian mansion inspired by the Italian Grand Tour.

Steam train from the ferry
In Dittisham we rang the bell by the Ferry Boat Inn (where we enjoyed the best Sunday roast ever) and a man appeared in a boat. He took us across the river to Greenway, Agatha Christie's house. We went on a riverboat cruise in Dartmouth where we saw a dolphin, a seal and a steam train; and at Blackpool Sands we found a sandy beach.

The best part about being in a remote village was that my mobile phone only worked if I stood on the crumbling steps by the church in the cold. Even then a couple of bars wasn't always enough to let my messages and emails through. I'm so used to tweets and texts beeping throughout the day that initially I missed them. But without them, my head was clearer and I found that I enjoyed the break. Of course as soon as we went anywhere in the car, the first thing I did was check messages and emails and reply to them. And on the last day I gave in and went into the pub/village store for a cappuccino and used their Wi-Fi.

On the path to Greenway from boat
Now it's almost March (hello Spring?), I need to change gear with respect to my writing so I can produce a half-decent draft of The Painting for the RNA New Writers' Scheme by the end of August. This means I shall have to [try and] limit time spent social networking. Sometimes it's easy to switch on the computer, open Word, open the internet; then Tweetdeck and Facebook, then Blogger to check stats and before I know it an hour has passed.

Do you sometimes wish you could get away from your mobile phone?

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Do you get lost in research?

                                                    King George III

             National Portrait Gallery, London

*see below re use of photograph

I've been researching Book 2, The Painting this week. Guildford Library has provided me with many books over the past few months. Sometimes browsing a shelf of books on the same subject is easier than searching on the internet. On Saturday I picked up ten books on the late 1700s/early 1800s. Knowing I couldn't take them all home because they were heavy (and I forgot to take a carrier bag again), I sat at a desk and skimmed through them. This allowed me to decide which books would be the most useful and I eliminated eight, noting their titles for future reference. Most of the books I've used so far are out of print, so I wouldn't have found them in a bookshop (unless it was a secondhand one). Two of the books I've borrowed from Guildford Library are so useful, that I've ordered secondhand copies from Amazon.

There is the question of what's the best method of extracting relevant information from these books? The loose outline for the story I'm writing is in four parts: Late 1700s/early 1800s: 1. England 2. Italy and Today: 3. England and 4. Italy.

I'm currently researching and writing 1 and 2 (late 1700s/early 1800s England and Italy), looking for ways to link research to the story. I've discovered loads of interesting facts such as that men often cried in public. Sometimes ministers in the House of Commons would be in tears; men also cried to woo women. Then there was King George III, The Prince Regent, William Pitt, The French Revolutionary Wars, Nelson and The Battle of Trafalgar, The Industrial Revolution, the Luddite riots, The American War of Independence and it goes on....This period in history is fascinating, but I need to know when to STOP!

It's knowing which facts are relevant and worth zooming in on; investigating primary sources rather than secondary ones. It's easy to get caught up in the web of information, especially if it's interesting. There's the question of do you write notes as you read research or do you absorb it the first time and write notes afterwards? Writing notes the first time I read research can be compared to taking photos on a special occasion; clicking away with a camera detracts from enjoying the moment in a way that taking notes without absorbing information can be less effective.

Do you get lost in research?

* I've downloaded the photograph under the Creative Commons license (use in non-commercial, amateur projects). Thank you to the National Portrait Gallery for allowing me to use the photo of this wonderful painting. There is a photo of another portrait in the post: Paragraph Planet: 75 words on The Ditchley Portrait