I love researching. I like poking around in libraries, finding old books that nobody’s opened for years. In fact the hardest thing for me is to stop researching and actually start writing.
I think I’m really lucky to be alive at this time. There is so much information available and most of the time it’s free. Anyone can join a library and read about anything they’re interested in. Nowadays, most people have access to the Internet, if not at home, then at school or at the library. The great thing about libraries is they keep on growing. They get in all the new books on a subject, but they keep the older ones as well.
I do a lot of my research in the State Library of Victoria. They have millions of books but most of them aren’t out on the shelves like at your local library. They have them stored away somewhere and you have to fill in a request form for the book you want and someone goes and gets it for you. I also like the libraries at the University of Melbourne. They have millions of books too. I’m not a student of the university, so I can’t borrow the books, but anyone can go in and read the books in the library. From time to time universities talk about only allowing students into their libraries, but at the moment they’re open to everyone. I hope it stays that way.
To give you an idea of how I go about researching a book, I’ll tell you a bit about how I came up with the idea for the Ramose series.
My first idea was “I’d like to write a book set in Ancient Egypt.” I didn’t know any more about ancient Egypt than anybody else. I’ve never been to Egypt, so I started exploring it through books.
I didn’t know where to start though. There were 3000 years of ancient Egyptian history. When exactly was I going to set my book? In the earlier part of the history (called the Old Kingdom) when the pyramids were built? In the later period called the New Kingdom when Tutankhamun lived and the tombs in the Valley of the Kings were built? Or somewhere in between?
I wanted to set the story during the reign of a real Pharaoh not a pretend one. So I started reading, trying to find something interesting that happened that sounded like the beginning of a good story.
Ramose was a real person. Or at least I think he was. I only found mention of him in one book. He was a prince, but no one knew anything about him. He died when he was just a child, so he never became Pharaoh himself. I asked myself the question. What if there was more to this? What if the young prince didn’t really die, but something else happened to stop him from becoming Pharaoh? That was the beginning of my story.
I got the basic idea for the Ramose series from reading two history books. One book was about pharaohs and their families. The other was about ordinary hardworking people who worked in the tombmakers’ village near the Valley of the Kings. I didn’t have to read whole history books. I just dipped into them and read any bits and pieces that seemed interesting.
So once I had the basic story worked out, did I start writing it straight away? No. I kept reading. I had to find out exactly what it was like to live in ancient Egypt. To write my stories I had to know what they had for breakfast, if they wore underwear, what they did for fun. I read lots of books and looked at lots of websites. Whatever I thought might be useful in my story, I wrote down.
Most books on history have a list of other books that the author has read at the back. So every time I read a book, I ended up with a list of more books to read. It took about six months before I felt that I knew enough about ancient Egypt to be able to see the world through Ramose’s eyes.