Tuesday, 11 March 2008


I just posted a bit of waffle about notebooks on my blog, and I thought I'd ask my MNW brethren how you all keep track of your research. What are the most interesting (or odd) things you have notes on? The dullest?


Matt Curran said...

Hi Faye

My notebooks for The Black Hours are utterly chaotic. Like you, I include everything from social and political comments to snatches of dialogue (I sometimes have conversations with myself – but in character, honest), to doodles. I’ve got numerous pages of notes, internet pages and photocopies of research materials stacked up in the study, and plenty of research books with pieces of paper sticking out the top leaning against each other on the bookshelves – threatening to fall over at a moments notice (they did during the earthquake).

But it’s not all chaotic – the laptop is a picture of organised serenity, almost anally so. I have several folders set up on the desktop that feature anything from scanned photos to typed up notes on characters and setting all available at a mouse click. I think by the time I start writing the book proper in April, most of the notes will be transferred to the laptop and the notebooks will be consigned to ‘history’.

I’d say the grossest bit of research I’ve picked up is the story of a man in Victorian times who died in a cesspit – he literally drowned in someone else’s shit. And then there’s the tale of some poor sod being incinerated in the sewers of London when a methane cloud ignited…

Anonymous said...

Currently, my notebook is scribbled with notes on the World's Largest Shoe, which is located in Hallam, Pennsylvania, and was built in 1949 along U.S. Highway 30 by Colonel (self-appointed) Mahlon Haines, "The Shoe Wizard," (also probably self-appointed). It's really more of a shoe-shaped concrete house, than it is a shoe.

I'm also researching a now-deserted settlement in Kansas with the intriguing name; Swamp Angel.

doug worgul

Faye L. Booth said...

Matt: my computer's always much more sensibly organised as well. Strange, given that the notebooks invariably look like some sort of information bomb went off in them.

Your historical notes sound like they could have come out of Baldrick's diary!

Doug: is a Swamp Angel like a snow angel only much more sticky and hazardous?

Eliza Graham said...

I write snatches of scenes on the back of shopping lists and receipts. I have piles of cuttings and books to read. Sometimes I write notes in my posh notebooks but these notes are seldom read. Just the act of writing the notes seems to push the information into my subconscious.

My son gave me a dictating machine for Christmas and I'm supposed to dictate brainwaves (har!) into that. I have used it for this purpose but also for testing my son's Latin and French vocab. And for shopping lists.

David Isaak said...

I carry itty-bitty (4.5 x 3.25)hard-bound composition books around with me when I'm out of the house.

At home, though, I scribble on large pads. Anything important goes on the computer.

I also have possibly the world's most anal spreadsheets, recording how many pages I wrote every day, the average pages per week, the number of days I've been writing the book, where I expect to be in a few weeks, as well as chapter details.

All the detail is because I don't really plan when I start. So I overdo details on where I've been to compensate...

Brian McGilloway said...

I have a different notebook for each book. I keep notes of the various events plotted and some lines or descriptions I like. The books tend to be padded out, like Eliza, with notes on envelopes, parking stubs etc. which I haven't the time or inclination to sort out. THe most interesting research to date was on how gold mines operate for Devlin 3.

Len Tyler said...

I currently have two notebooks.

One is large and usually stays at home. It is stuffed with press cuttings, postcards and other useful things to jog the momory. It also has assorted notes dating back some years. The early notes are for a Nordic novel that I never wrote. I am, for some reason, very rude about Odense. More recent notes include the stages of putrefaction of the human body and the effects of different types of poisons. You probably wouldn't want most of it quoted here, but the Bradford Sweets Poisoning of 1858 is quite amusing, if you like that sort of thing. It also has the plot of the novel I am currently working on.

I also have a small and surprisingly expensive Moleskine notebook - mainly because Hemingway used one. I imagined myself writing brilliant thoughts in it as I travelled on the tube to work. It's great to open and close because the the elastic fastening, and it's easy to slip into a pocket, but I don't actually write a lot in it, the tube journey being short and the carriage quite crowded. I did however take it to Thailand, where I sketched out my next novel (characters and plot, chapter by chapter).

I'm sure it could all be done much more efficiently electronically, but writers' notebooks are part of a great tradition. It may be the only thing Hemingway and I have in common.

Eliza Graham said...

Are Nordic novels a rite of passage? I'm trying to work out whether I want to write the Nordic novel I kind of started about four years ago. I was speaking to another novelist at a bar after a dinner a few weeks ago and he, too, had a Nordic novel he was mulling over.