Research – the bluffer’s guide to bluffing

Here’s a blog I originally did as a guest post for the fabulous BookReviewCafe.com

Research is a bit like driving; when it is done well, you don’t really notice it but done badly, and you have to resist the urge to open the window and scream “what the hell are you doing?!”

The internet is very much a mixed blessing for authors – we can find out almost anything if we look in the right places, but so too can the curious reader. It has never been easier to get something right or to be proven wrong. Back in the old days, Charles Dickens could get away with ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ because nobody was able to tweet him back with statistics that proved it was in fact neither.

Research is of course vital but it is a real ‘how long is a piece of string’ type deal and if you’re not careful, you’ll end up tied in knots. You’ve got to set yourself a time limit otherwise you can disappear down an internet rabbit-hole and not be seen for days. I lost a large chunk of a week watching videos of numerous guys from America’s Deep South, who in my memory were all called Bubba, doing video reviews of guns on YouTube. There is something hypnotically disturbing about a big bearded mountain man who looks like he washes himself in the creek once a month, lovingly stroking a handgun while describing it as ‘the gun God would use.’

Then of course there is the issue of internet search history paranoia. Ask any crime author and they’ll tell you; we have to google a lot of weird stuff. Not that long ago, I spent quite a while trying to figure out what it would be like if, in the course of a fight, you had to bite someone. It is a creepy thing to google and asking questions on Facebook got very mixed results. Using social media as a source probably does work well for most people, but when 90% of your Facebook friends are professional stand-up comedians, you have to be very wary of the attempt to try and make you look silly in print.

My paranoia regarding my digital footprint is considerably greater than most authors and I think with some justification. I’m an Irishman living in England; certain things are red flags. I’ve had to do research on explosives for my books, that is not something you want sitting in your favorites when you’ve got my passport. I did consider going to an internet café – yes, in the age of everyone having internet on their phone, those places inexplicably still exist – but I rejected the idea. Going to an internet café to research explosives is exactly what a terrorist would do. Come to think of it, it is hard to think of anything legal that people need to go to an internet café to research. If MI5 haven’t done so already, they should set up their own chain of internet cafés.

My solution to my explosive problem was to text a friend of mine, let’s call him A. A is still technically a British policeman, although he’s on sabbatical doing comedy for the last few years. Here is a dramatic recreation of our text conversation:

C: “Hi fella, I hope you’re well. Just wanted to let you know that I’m googling stuff about bombs as research for my book.”
A: “OK. Why are you telling me this?”
C: “I don’t want to get arrested.”
A: “Relax. We don’t arrest people for just reading about stuff like that.”
C: “Anymore – you forgot to say ‘anymore’ there.”
A: “Touché.”

Next day.

C: “How long does it take a body to smell?”
A: “Shower once a day and you’ll be alright.”

C: “From how far away could you shoot somebody in the head?”
A: “Don’t tempt me.”

He’s actually has been very useful, I just hope I haven’t annoyed him enough that he’ll refuse to appear as a character witness. Regardless, you’ve read this. Remember this post if you see my face on the Six O’Clock News. I don’t want to end up sharing a cell with one of the Bubbas, lovesick for his gun collection.

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