Rachel McLean

– Thrillers That Make You Think

Book Location Research During Lockdown

One of the things I love about being a writer is the research.

It allows me to indulge my inner geek, learning about new topics and new places, and all in the name of book research.

The bulk of my research never finds its way into my books (which is how it should be), but having a good grounding in the topics touched on in those books helps give the story a solid foundation and make it more credible for readers – who won’t be pulled up short by a fact I got wrong or a location I described inaccurately.

(I once read a book set in Swanage that described the sun setting over the sea. My childhood holidays were in Swanage – take a look at a map to see why this scene made me put the book down in exasperation.)

One of the things I like to do before (or even better while) writing a book is to visit the locations and get a sense of how it feels to be in those places. This has been really useful in the past:

  • While I was writing Thicker Than Water, I went to North Yorkshire and realized I’d written the weather all wrong. I had the characters sitting on the beach relaxed, while they should have been shivering in horizontal rain.
  • While writing A House Divided, I was lucky enough to be taken on a tour of the House of Commons by an MP, who showed me places I never would have known existed if I’d gone on a public tour.
  • While writing Sea of Lies, I stayed in the village outside Filey where the book is set, which allowed me to immerse myself in the location and imagine what it would be like to live there.
  • While writing Unborn, I spent time in the USA and was able to pick up habits of speech that made their way into the book, and ask the Americans I met questions that helped make the book more realistic.

But this time around, while writing Deadly Wishes, I had no such option. I wrote the first draft of the book while the UK was in strict lockdown and although the locations were only a few miles away from me, I couldn’t justify going there.

It was made a bit easier by the fact that I lived around the corner from Zoe’s police station for a few years – but that was twenty years ago. Places change a lot in that kind of time. And the road system around Selly Oak, where Zoe lives, has been dug up and redesigned in the years since I lived over that way.

The ideal would have been to get in my car and take a look.

But I couldn’t. So I cheated.

If you’re in the UK and you’ve been watching the government press conferences during the crisis, you’ll have seen that they use data from Apple Maps to see how many people have been out and about during lockdown.

My question is… does that include authors using the internet to research locations?

Because I’ve driven from Zoe’s house, to her workplace, then to the crime scene, back to the police station, into the city centre, and back to Zoe’s home… many times. But only virtually.

So if the figures show that a lot of people have been driving around south Birmingham, then maybe it’s me and my research!

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