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