I am thrilled to be taking part in this blog tour today. As I’ve not yet had the chance to read any of the previous Henning Juul books I decided that making the final book my first read wasn’t a good idea. Therefore, instead of a review I have a guest post from Thomas Enger for you, in which he discusses research or not researching before you begin to write. It’s a very interesting post and I hope you enjoy reading it.
Blurb: Crime reporter Henning Juul thought his life was over when his young son was murdered. But that was only the beginning…
Determined to find his son’s killer, Henning doggedly follows an increasingly dangerous trail, where dark hands from the past emerge to threaten everything. His ex-wife Nora is pregnant with another man’s child, his sister Trine is implicated in the fire that killed his son and, with everyone he thought he could trust seemingly hiding something, Henning has nothing to lose … except his own life. Packed with tension and unexpected twists, Killed is the long-awaited finale of one of the darkest, most chilling and emotive series you may ever read. Someone will be killed. But who?
To research or not to (or how to) – that is the question
by Thomas Enger
A question I often get from pupils doing a paper or whenever I’m participating on panels/festivals here or there (mostly there), is the topic of research. How you do you do your research, when do you do it (before, during or after the first draft?) or sometimes I’m even asked if I do any research at all. First, let me just very clearly state that I’m not a doctor. I’m not a psychiatrist. I’m not a carpenter. I’m not a weather man. I’m not a politician. I’m not a teacher (at least not anymore, I did have a four-month sting as a gymnastics teacher back when I was 21). I’m not hit man. I’m not a hit woman, or a woman, for that matter. I’m not a butcher (although that can sometimes be argued…). I’m not a secretary for a shady lawyer, either. I’m not a real estate agent, would you believe it. I’m not a 74-year old woman or an astronaut. You get where I’m going with this. So if I’m ever going to make any sense at all in the books that I’m writing, a certain element of research has to apply.
That means I go online and search for stuff or places. I talk to people. I e-mail them. Ask all kinds of stupid questions, just to get an inkling for the topic or just to see if there is something in that specific line of work that I can use (to my advantage). I also travel quite a lot, and take pictures of the places that I’m writing about, just to make sure that I get everything right. Not that it has to be, I’m writing fiction, so I can easily manufacture a bridge or a lake here or there, if I want to or the story requires it. But it adds to the story’s credibility if I can keep myself within some form of reality. When it comes to medical issues, for instance, that is especially imperative. I can’t invent new ways to perform open heart surgery (a closed one, for instance, would look weird) or treat a cancer patient with anti-histamines and still proclaim with a certain level of authority that those little blue pills somehow made the patient cancer-free. Things that people can google themselves and double-check, need to be accurate, or at least very close to it.
When I get ideas for a book, the instinct in me tells me to start writing right away, as the idea is fresh and fun and free from friction. But what I’ve learned over the years is to give myself enough time and space, or patience, as some might call it, to develop a feel for the story first before I dive into the material. That means giving the story a preliminary cast, and when I do that, research always place a small part. If I need a janitor in there somewhere, I might research that profession a little bit. Bad example, but it would be good to know a little bit about what it’s actually like to be a female in a very male dominant part of, say, politics. Like in the Ministry of Defence, for instance. Then I would try to talk to someone with that kind of experience or background, and see if there are specifics in her everyday life that I can use.
If I know that the story is going to involve drug trafficking or problems related to immigration, then it’s always good to know some details of how things really work in the society I’m portraying before I start to create a story around that topic. For me, the characters always come before the topic, so that was a bad example, too. But you know what I mean. I hope.
I don’t want to over-do the research, though. I want to leave a lot up to my own imagination, and sometimes I just write and do the research after. I can write a scene exactly the way I want it to play, and then go back and see if a gun actually could spit out 22 bullets per second, or if I have to make do with 3. Again, not the best of examples, but I’ve found that research sometimes can be limiting to what I want to write. It certainly might limit my options, so the best thing, for me, at least, is to have a certain feel for the terrain before I put my boots on, so to speak, and then go wherever I want in that terrain, hopefully without getting my feet too wet. That was a better example, right? A decent analogy, at least?
But don’t take my, uhm, word for it. Every author has his or her own path or methodology, and it’s always a matter of trying and figuring out what works for you. If it doesn’t, then try a different angle the next time around.
What I’ve found to be quite amazing over the last eight or nine years (that’s how long I’ve been doing this professionally) is how incredibly forthcoming people are when I approach them, looking for help (first aid). They are so eager to help in any way they can, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Thomas Enger (b. 1973) is a former journalist. He made his debut with the crime novel Burned (Skinndød) in 2010, which became an international sensation before publication. Burned is the first in a series of 5 books about the journalist Henning Juul, which delves into the depths of Oslo’s underbelly, skewering the corridors of dirty politics and nailing the fast-moving world of 24-hour news. Rights to the series have been sold to 26 countries to date. In 2013 Enger published his first book for young adults, a dark fantasy thriller called The Evil Legacy, for which he won the U-prize (best book Young Adult). Enger also composes music, and he lives in Oslo.