OK, let’s get it out there. Research for a novel can be a chore. Those heavy reference books, that dry-as-dust internet browsing, that trawling through ancient cuttings, they’re just not me. I write comedy, you see. For years, I was a BBC TV and radio scriptwriter, penning funny lines for the likes of Tracey Ullman and Lenny Henry, alongside pursuing a more conventional career as a journalist, copywriter and PR.
Research, I find, can be a black hole for humour.
Who wants to pause to find out the whys and wherefores, when hilarity is about to break out on the page?
Yet comedy has to have authenticity and logic to work well, otherwise, the reader won’t be convinced by your tale. So a certain amount of research is inevitable.
My debut novel Note to Boy (published 23 July 2020) tells of the mayhem that follows when the worlds of Eloise, an outrageous fashion diva, famous in the 1960s Swinging London, and Bradley, a downtrodden modern teenager collide. Obviously, I needed a source of authentic information for Eloise’s ‘fab and groovy’ early days. No problem. I knew an impeccable source. Me.
At the tail-end of the 1960s and early 1970s, I was a single twenty-something, living in a shared flat in London near Oxford Circus, buying my miniskirts in Carnaby Street and going to parties in Chelsea. Not only that, I worked for a big American film company. Celebrity – and what can happen if you lose it – is an important strand in my novel. Though I’ve never been as rich and famous – or as outrageous – as Eloise, I have experienced celebrity close up from the side-lines.
As secretary to a film exec, I literally bumped into Sean Connery on the stairs, made coffee for David Niven and, one memorable and terrifying day, spoke to Orson Welles on the phone. All of which was fantastic background material for my book.
Research for Note to Boy was a joy. It meant reliving happy memories, as well as reading up on the 1960s showbiz gossip and devouring the autobiographies of wild-child celebs of the time. Not exactly a chore.
Until now, I’ve never believed in the well-worn maxim, ‘Write about what you know’. But I can see the advantage of using your own youthful experiences in your writing. It makes the research so much more fun!
Written by Sue Clark
Sue Clark has grilled John Humphreys, quipped with Ronnie Corbett, danced with one James Bond and had a one-sided conversation with another, and penned funny lines for the likes of Lenny Henry, June Whitfield, Roy Hudd and David Jason. She’s been a BBC radio and TV comedy scriptwriter on such shows such as Alas Smith and Jones, Weekending, The News Huddlines and The Jason Explanation, a copywriter, a PR, a journalist, a magazine editor, a writer of guidebooks, a secretary and was, briefly, paid to read books all day long for a film producer. And now she’s written a novel.