You may not think that a middle grade contemporary novel, or a junior series, needs a lot of research (I certainly didn't) but there is some required. At first I thought that I would find all that I needed through a search engine or two, however there are other ways to find the detail needed.
Let's start with places.
I know Melbourne fairly well; I lived there for some time. So when Harper was riding her bike along the path that runs beside the Port Phillip Bay, I had a clear picture in my mind of where she was going, what she could see. I'd walked parts of it, driven along Beach Road and had enough experience with bayside weather to feel confident to include it.
However it had been a long time, many years, since I'd been to the South Melbourne Market, and now that I don't live in Melbourne anymore, it was too far for a quick revisit. Thank goodness for online images in travel apps and our love of taking and posting photos of everything we do!
My characters reside in composites of places I'm familiar with. A few searches of images can add some finer detail but generally, places are constructed through recalling my own experiences.
There are other things that have been far trickier to write about - take for instance the Navy. I have no navel experience and while internet searches provide information, Everything We Keep (Scholastic Aust, 2021) needed some specific detail.
One Saturday evening, I was making a list of all of the things I needed to find out about the Navy. There were some that you might think are obvious - Do they really say aye-aye? (And yes they do). But I wanted other information. What's the process when an officer retires? Do they use the 24 hour clock when off duty? And can my character have the ranking I'd given him? (He could not - but he has a new and correct ranking now).
I compiled my list and emailed it to the Navy.
I recall hoping that I would get a response in a few weeks. What I didn't expect was a response within the hour - but that's what happened. Media Manager, James, was more than happy to help ensure the Australian Navy was represented correctly. With all my questions answered (and a few follow up ones, just to be sure I had everything covered) I continued to add the detail to my manuscript.
I have a wonderful group of friends who have all sorts of amazing skills and knowledge they are happy to share - I just had to ask. Jen has read manuscripts with her medical hat on, helping the symptoms a character has be realistic. Alex has provided me with Japanese translations so that a character has an authentic voice. Emily and Karen answered questions about nursing, so that hospital scenes are realistic and not sounding like a television drama.
For me, the expertise I have in my circle of friends, who are always generous with their time, is invaluable and they all help out knowing that a manuscript may never end up on a bookshelf.
I have a character or rather a flock of characters, who needed some specific research. In the junior series I'm writing, there's a flock of migrating birds, who swoop in at different points and cause a bit of mischief.
Once again, online search engines to the rescue. I needed a bird whose migration path took it down the eastern coast of Australia. I also wanted a name that was easy to say but could be exaggerated if a character was frustrated.
What I found was the Eastern Curlew - perfect.
I have added some not exactly true details to the curlews in my story. For example, they mainly eat small crabs however for dramatic purposes they do try to steal vegetables from a garden.
There are lots of other small details that needed some research. Trees, for example, tall ones, ones that grow near a beach, ones that can be in a small garden. Train timetables and how many stops there are between two points on a map, variations on a colour - names of shades (thank goodness for paint colour charts).
These small details make the story real, add to the picture the reader is creating in their mind of the setting, the characters.
And I know I get some things right. When Unpacking Harper Holt was released, I visited a few bookshops, in Melbourne, to sign copies. One bookseller told me that she knew exactly where Harper was riding her bike because she walked that path everyday.
I also want to mention incidental research, things that you may not need right now but could come in handy in a future manuscript. These I find through casual conversations or observations; asking one or two specific questions about something someone has mentioned can lead to a treasure of information that can be stored away or provide inspiration for a character or event. I often find myself thinking - I could use that in a book.
I've learnt a lot about research and am full of admiration for historical novelists, I can only imagine the time that it must take. For my manuscripts I am thankful for the generosity of others to help, can see how the details can add layers to a story and, finally, that it can be a lot of fun - especially if it involves pastries!