‘Write what you know’ is a saying that most writers have heard, but what if the story you want to write isn’t about something you know? That’s when you need to get researching.
Writers approach research in different ways. When I first started writing Deep Down Dead I could hear my protagonist, bounty hunter and single mom Lori Anderson’s voice really clearly in my head, but to make her, and the story, authentic I felt I needed more – I needed to know what it felt like to walk in her shoes.
The concept of method writing needs to be credited to fantastic psychological thriller writer Julia Crouch. It was from a conversation with Julia, as part of a workshop at City University London when I was doing the MA in Creative Writing, that I got the idea. Julia explained how she drew on her background in theatre to ‘get into character’ – sometimes literally putting on the character’s clothes. I thought it sounded like an idea that might work for me.
I gave it a go. Firstly it was a good excuse to buy more cowboy boots – a brown leather and blue suede pair with white stitched daisies – that make an appearance in Deep Down Dead, then a knee-high pair, then some fancy ones in red leather with white flowers inlaid. But I didn’t stop there, I wanted to understand how it felt to be a woman operating in the largely male dominated world of bounty hunting, I needed to know the dangers faced in that line or work, and how the people that do the job every day track their fugitives and keep themselves safe.
So I flew to California and trained with a professional bounty hunter (still wearing my cowboy boots!). I learnt about how the legal system works with bailbondsmen and bounty hunters, and how to track and catch a fugitive. I learnt about guns and tasers and handcuffs. I discovered that a lot of Californian bounty hunters work in teams, that I should always wear my body armour under my clothes (to discourage a fugitive from going for a head shot), and not to eat much before going out on a pick-up just in case I took a shot to the stomach.
I found living in that world for a little while helped me get a sense of the world in which my protagonist, Lori Anderson, operates. It helped me understand the very real dangers that bounty hunters face in their work, and feel what it’s like to ‘walk in my character’s shoes’.
For me, I’ve found ‘method writing’ the best way to get to know my character and I totally recommend it. It’s been fun, it’s been interesting, and it’s given me an excuse to buy more cowboy boots!