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  • Writer's pictureJessica M. Simpkiss

Research, research, research

Q: I've just started your book, Spaewife - about 5 chapters in. It's evident that you've done a lot of research for this topic. What is your process for researching? How long do you spend researching a topic before you start writing?

A: In general, I don't know if the research phase ever really stops. During the writing process, I feel like i'm constantly googling the smallest detail to make sure that I get it right. In the case of The Spaewife's Secret, it felt like I was doing nothing but research, from beginning to end. The initial research was reading children's books revolving around the fairy tale of the Kelpie or water horse.

Then came the setting and scene description. I convinced my husband we needed to take a trip to the Isle of Lewis where the book is set in order to be able to accurately describe the island. We spent almost two weeks wandering over the very desolate Isle of Lewis, taking it all in, making mental notes of the sounds and smells. I can still hear the sound of the tide bell ringing in my dreams some nights.

Then I got to the language aspect of the book, and said oh, s***. This was probably the most problematic aspect of the research phase. But why, you're probably asking, they speak English. And the answer is not the English America's are used to. Some do still speak Gaelic, the native language. I'll never forget being in the grocery store listing to the cashier speak to the woman in front of us in Gaelic. I felt like I was in an episode of Outlander. And the rest do speak English, but it's their English. They have sayings and slang and names for things that don't exist in American English. So the language aspect was the most labor intensive and involved a lot of reading of Scottish newspapers, watching of BBC, and a handy-dandy English to Scottish translator I found online.

My second novel which is still pending publication was much the same way. It’s a historical fiction that takes place in Ireland in the mid-1950s and follows several women through their experience in the Catholic homes for unwed mothers that were prevalent at the time. Here not only did I have to research and come to understand a different culture but I also had to understand that culture in a different time.

My third novel, tentatively entitled Hide and Seek and still very much a work in progress involved less research as it is set domestically in the United States and in a more current time frame. But still, researching maps and local life are a big part of the process.

Research is learning new and interesting things. It’s what keeps our minds young and the ideas for the next story flowing through them.

Thanks for the great question!

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