The internet is a blessing when you’re writing a book. I often wonder how writers managed before the www was part of daily life. For your main research, it’s usually more helpful to go and look at whatever you need to know more about, or talk to an expert – I’m lucky to have a family full of teachers and police officers, and friends who are nurses and architects and business people. But for the small details, often unimportant to the actual story, there’s nothing to beat a quick dip into Google – here are a couple of my most recent searches:
When do hedgehogs give birth?
This is a tiny point in my unfinished wip. The main character goes into the local wildlife centre, and finds the person she’s looking for… wiping the table? Boring. Sterilising the equipment? Better, but not exactly fascinating. Feeding an orphaned baby hedgehog? MUCH better, but do hedgehogs have babies at the time of year in my book? A quick google, and yes, they do.
Onset rigor mortis.
I should really know this, but for some reason it never sticks in my mind. In most of my books it’s not an issue, as psychological suspense/domestic noir doesn’t necessarily mean dead bodies, and even when you have one, rigor doesn’t always play a role in the story. This time it would, though, so I had to make sure the body was transported and disposed of before rigor mortis would set in.
Flight time London Gatwick to New York.
Google maps is invaluable. If I put this search straight into Google, I’m bombarded with websites wanting to sell me airline tickets. In Google maps, though, it merely shows the route – you can even plot it from the character’s starting point at home, and you get the route and the time to travel to the airport by car or public transport, plus the flight times. For one book, I “drove” in street view from Dunvegan in the north of the Isle of Skye, all the way to Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland. It took nearly as long as the real journey would – an hour and seven minutes, according to Google, but it was a lovely trip. The only thing was, you go Over the Sea to Skye on a bridge now, and my flashback chapter took place in the pre-bridge ferry days. However, I’ve been on that ferry myself, so no problem.
Up the spout meaning
It happens quite a lot – a little phrase or saying pops into my head, and then I think – does that mean what I think it means? I’ve lived well over thirty years “in German” now, and some expressions exist in one language but not the other, and sometimes I mix the languages and end up with a similar but rather foreign-sounding phrase in English. This is where Google comes in – and if you search for ‘up the spout origin’, you learn when the expression came into the language. Some of them are older than you’d think. This one was first recorded early in the nineteenth century.
How to kayak in a two-seater.
This isn’t something I’ve ever done, but in my wip, I needed a couple of kids to kayak downriver (and find the body that didn’t have rigor mortis when it was disposed of…). And just like when you google “how to make soda bread”, you get instructions, videos, lists of equipment – much more than I needed for my chapter. But at least I have the right kid sitting in the front seat, and they have the right kind of paddles. Don’t think I’ll ever go kayaking, though.
So there you have it. As a general rule, if you need to know something and the internet is down – ask a writer. Chances are they’ll have googled it at some point.