A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Researching your setting (or It’s a hard life being an author)


I quite often start with setting. I find quirky, unusual places (like this one or this one) so inspiring and frequently find the settings suggest the characters and plot. We recently visited a local lighthouse and, by the time we’d finished the 45 minute tour, my head was so full of a novel idea, I scribbled notes all the way home.

I can’t remember how I discovered the Ansonia, a residential hotel on New York’s Upper West Side, but as soon as I did I knew I had to put it in a book. I still haven’t been there in person, but I spent a lot of time researching it online and I actually have a recurring dream in which I’m trying to get there!

I’d already planned to set my next book in Los Angeles when I discovered the Venice canals and knew that’s where my main character, Emma, had to live. The problem was, while I knew New York well enough to be able to write about it from memory/Google, I couldn’t get a handle on LA at all. I could wander the canals online, but I had no idea where they were in relation to anything else. I could look at photos of the Boardwalk and Pier, but couldn’t tell how you would get from one to the other. So there was only one thing for it. I had to go on a research trip.


I went with a friend and we stayed in an apartment actually on a canal (found via Air BnB). We were only there for three days, but we packed a lot in. And pretty much all of it ended up in the book. It was one of the best holidays I’ve ever had (“This is work!” I said, drinking a Mimosa on the beach at 10 in the morning. In November.) and Emma Hearts LA is my favourite of my books.

Most importantly, it convinced me of the value of a research trip. Actually being in the place I was writing about sparked so many ideas and made the book much richer and more fun to write (and, I hope, to read). I can’t imagine what I would have written if I hadn’t gone.

Unfortunately, research trips aren’t cheap. My next book’s out on Monday. It’s set in Manchester.

About K

YA writer. Voracious reader. Feminist. Home educator. Addicted to tea and Twitter.

6 comments on “Researching your setting (or It’s a hard life being an author)

  1. kateormand
    November 1, 2013

    Beautiful. I love EMMA HEARTS LA!

  2. Wendy
    November 1, 2013

    Absolutely – research trips are very important. I recently read quite a well known YA novel where the author had written about a Cumbrian coastal town as if it was a seaside resort, when in fact it was nothing of the sort. She obvioulsy hadn’t been there, or even done her research on google street view! I got quite irritated and it ruined the story for me.

  3. Keris
    November 1, 2013

    Thanks, Kate. The canals were magical.

  4. EmmaH
    November 1, 2013

    I live in dread of making a cock up like that!

  5. orthodoxmom3
    November 2, 2013

    What an interesting idea… starting with a setting. I’ll try that today as I think over an idea or two for PiBoIdMo!

  6. Keris
    November 2, 2013

    Oh dear! I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t use Google Street View though – hours of fun!

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