A number of years ago I was at a SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) cocktail party at some convention—one of those affairs where we all stand about with drinks in our hands either complaining about our publishers or trying to sound more successful than we are. I fell into conversation with a (male) science fiction writer who shall be nameless, mainly because I have forgotten his name. What I do remember is his observation that of course I, as a writer of fantasy, didn’t have to do research. Presumably unlike science fiction writers, who regularly write about faster-than-light travel and societies which have somehow retained contemporary military ranks centuries into the future, on an unlimited number of earth-like planets. I forget what I replied—I think I was too stunned to say much—but the conversation ended shortly.
So let me tell you about the research that as a fantasy writer I don’t have to do. I particularly noticed this today because my upstairs ethernet is not cooperating, and in order to access the internet I had to tromp down two flights of stairs to the office machine.
In order to write half of Chapter Seven (of SWORD OF AVALON, which takes place at the end of the Bronze Age), in no particular order, I needed to know:
–The native range of cedar trees
–The location of prehistoric copper mines in the British isles, and the dates during which they were worked.
–The date of the earliest European coinage.
–The shapes into which early tin ingots were cast.
–The types of ships built and used in the Mediterranean, the Atlantic littoral, and the British Isles.
–the names and characteristics (if known) of pre-Celtic Iberian cultures
–the language of Tartessos (related to no known European language, by the way)
–early trade routes for copper and tin
–how ingots were packed for shipping
–the contents of a bronze-smith’s toolbox
I already knew what Penzance and St. Michael’s Mount look like. I’ve been there.
Even five years ago, that much information would have required a search through the bookshelves in our library (which currently is filled with my nephew David’s furniture and inaccessible anyway) and a trip to the UCB library, and several points at which I would have waved my hands and hoped, or decided I didn’t really need to include that detail anyway. In fact, many of those details won’t appear in the book because they would result in what I call “creeping footnotism”, and bog down the narrative flow. But in order to know what information not to include, I have to know what it is.
Did I mention that I love the internet?