Monday, 31 January 2011

I’ve never killed anyone. I haven’t even had a broken nose

by Leigh Russell,

I’m not a police officer, have no medical training, and have never killed anyone. So perhaps it’s not surprising that I’m often asked how I do my research.
There are advantages to working in an establishment that employs over 100 people. My nose has never been broken (yes, yes, I was born looking like this). So when one of my characters had his nose broken recently I needed to do a little research. Would it hurt like hell, or would the initial shock prevent him feeling any pain straight away, as happens with some severe injuries?
I dashed off a group email asking if anyone had ever had a broken nose. Over the course of the day I was surprised to discover how many of my colleagues had broken their noses, but the first response came back immediately. ‘Many times,’ the writer told me. ‘What do you want to know?’ So I was able to write my scene confident that readers who’ve experienced a broken nose would continue to suspend their disbelief while reading my book. Job done.
Like any author, I have a growing number of anecdotes from my research, and it’s always been a positive experience. I once spent an entire afternoon at my local fire station with all the firemen while researching how domestic fires can start. The team couldn’t have been more helpful and it was great fun - although they did say that if they were called out to a real fire, they would have to abandon mine.
When I interviewed a Borough Commander and a Detective Inspector and arrived early having mixed up my times, instead of sending me away they invited me to join them for a fabulous pasta meal. Over dinner they answered all my questions, and more, and continue to answer my queries promptly for which I’m very grateful.
I’ve picked the brains of market traders, the Human Remains Department of a national museum, a Professor of Forensic Science, a furniture historian, IT experts, medical practitioners – a vast and disparate collection of people all enthusiastic about their particular area of expertise and eager to share their knowledge.
So is writing a solitary experience? Maybe it is for those who write about their own field of expertise. Perhaps I’m fortunate that I don’t.

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