Hazel Edwards talks research
I’ve been celebrating the release of my latest YA notel, That Stranger Next Door – a historical romance novel set in Melbourne in the 1950s – by inviting some great Australian writers to visit and talk about their writing.
Today’s guest blogger is Hazel Edwards OAM, who is most famous for the classic children’s picture book There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake. Hazel loves creating quirky characters for newly-independent young readers, but writes for all ages and has published over 200 books across a range of subjects and genres.
She thrives on the research that goes into her books, like Sir Edward Weary Dunlop and Professor Fred Hollows for the Aussie Heroes series.
An expedition to Antarctica – on an Australian Antarctic Division Arts Fellowship – resulted in three books: a novel, Antarctica’s Frozen Chosen; the children’s picture book; Antartic Dad; and her memoir, Antarctic Writer on Ice.
Hazel has also collaborated with experts in various fields to publish adult non-fiction titles; and co-written books, including f2m: the boy within, with Ryan Kennedy, a YA novel about gender transition; and Cycling Solo; Ireland to Istanbul, with her son Trevelyan Quest Edwards.
She has dropped into my blog to give some tips on research.
Researching Tips or: No, I didn’t do that book all on my own!
‘How long did you research your book?’ is a common question at author talks. Just after, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ or ‘How much money do you make?’
Genuine research takes longer than expected. And you need help, either ‘on the ground’ or with historical detectives.
‘How To’ adventure memoirs differ from junior history, but readers want humorous stories in accessible language. What do you need to know before walking that trail? If you were a child when Edith was growing up, what was different to now? If your parent did a bad thing, should you be blamed too?
For Trail Magic my son Trevelyan did ALL the solo walking of the 2184 Miles of the Appalachian Trail which took nearly six months. The participant-observation research was all his effort. Plus the people–based research of other risk-takers on the trail. And he wore out two pairs of boots.
But the writing took another year and that’s where I helped him. Trevelyan prefers walking another 10 km to finishing the chapter. Procrastination detours many writers.
For Edith Cowan: a Quiet Woman of Note, in the Aussie Heroes junior historical series, the $50 note on which she’s featured was better known than she was.
Edith was a quiet achiever whose story deserved being told, especially to inspire young readers; hence the sub title. Over two years, avid researcher Gail tracked down facts, photos and even a family scandal about Edith’s father who was hanged for murder; as well as information on Edith’s work with children and families which enabled many to get an education or a job; hence the university named after her.
Expect to use only 10% of what you research. The 90% you discard is where the skill of structuring occurs.
Time-management. Avoid researchitus where you can’t bear to leave out any fact. Decide at what point you must stop.
Select the facts for your potential reader level and area of interest.
Explain any specialist terms. My son and I favoured THRU Walker as the original title for our collaboration. But the publisher warned that the status of completing this famous trail and being known as a ‘THRU walker’ was not as widely known as we imagined. While ‘Trail Magic’ that wonderful hospitality offered to strangers was universal.
Have both an expert and non-expert reader test the manuscript for accuracy and for interest.
Maps make great end papers.
Sub-titles are important clues to content.
At the book launch, have a theme cake based on research. We had $50 banknote cake featuring Edith Cowan as a Woman of Note. Book covers can also be used on mousemats or banners.
Re-use your research in other fact, faction or fiction books, or just enjoy broadening your general knowledge.
For more information on Hazel Edwards, visit her website.