Today, I have the lovely Sue Moorcroft guesting on my blog to tell us all about her latest novel, Love & Freedom. Here, she tells us about her research in America.
When I first decided to make the heroine of Love & Freedom an American who comes to England to find her English mother, it didn’t occur to me to explore the obvious – sending the action back to America. But as the story wore on it became increasingly appropriate to do exactly that. I knew that Honor would hit a bad patch towards the end of the book and where do people go when they are in trouble? They go home.
Letting her go home changed my attitude to the American research. I’d anticipated doing enough to make her credible as an American in the county in which I live; that seemed easy enough. She’d have a picture in her mind of her hometown and the rest would centre upon how it feels to be an American living in England.
Of the utmost importance was visiting Connecticut, Honor’s home state, on the north east coast of America. That’s where I created the small town of Hamilton Drives, up on Route 7 in west Connecticut, with its wooded rolling hills.
For one thing, I saw that the syntax of New England isn’t as different to UK English as, say, that of Texas or Carolina. Readers can’t hear how Honor forms her vowels or says her Ts, which makes word choice and sequence crucial on ‘the spoken page’.
Also, my brother lives in Connecticut. He was happy for me to visit for a couple of weeks and he and his wife drove me around. I visited a realtor for information about the differences in UK and US real estate terminology, decided what kind of town I wanted to create and where it should be, pored over magazines about Connecticut homes, visited furniture stores, took train rides and a boat ride and visited Mystic Seaport, all of which I had wanted in the book – but there just wasn’t room. I sat in coffee shops listening to people. I visited Barnes & Noble and bought a lot of books – oh, sorry, that wasn’t exactly research! I ate in a lot of restaurants, too, but that was definitely pleasure mixed with business, though I identified Budweiser as my favourite American beer, so I suppose that counts …
Of course, once I was home, I was going to be a loooooong way from my source of research, so I took endless photos to download on my lovely Mac. I think digital cameras are brilliant for research. I not only take photos of places and things but of notices and street signs, so I can trace my footsteps, with the aid of maps, and establish exactly what’s where.
Within days of my return to the UK, I was fortunate enough to meet Amanda Lightstone – an American living in England. She and I are both regulars on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire’s In the Chat Room programme, which is on weekday afternoons. It was just after the July 4th weekend and I was wearing a top with the stars and stripes on it, which broke the ice. As Amanda talked about being born and brought up in the US, of British parents, coming to live in the UK as an adult, having family in both places, I almost broke into a happy dance because she had so many experiences in common with Honor.
I asked her if she’d help me with my research. And she said yes. Whoop!
That she proved to be as articulate and intelligent as she is kind was a huge bonus. We went out to dinner and she talked me through the American education system, medical care, traffic systems … it was a long list. What was especially invaluable was her clear and relevant recall of the realities of coming to live in England, things for which her yearly visits to England hadn’t prepared her – just like Honor. She had a great fund of anecdotes about not being able to remember exactly the right names for things, especially if they are known by their brand names in America, about occasionally experiencing intense feelings of alienation, of everyone around her talking the same language but seeming completely foreign.
I plundered these conversations shamelessly. And I emailed her all the time under subject lines such as ‘Another brainless question’. Happily for me, she never seemed to run out of patience. And when she was stuck for an answer she emailed her mom and sister in the US and they filled in blanks.
Later, I found I needed some information about American law and Amanda didn’t have a lawyer in her family. That was when wonderful Twitter came to my aid. I put up a plea and within four minutes had an offer from Donna Sessions Waters, who commented on my idea, told me a load of stuff I didn’t know I needed to know, and read the relevant part of the manuscript for errors.
My final ‘secret weapon’ was Amanda – again – who read the first draft of the novel and took out lingering Britishisms and explained where I’d missed out information or what she’d expect Honor to say in certain situations.
Yup, the research for Love & Freedom took a significant amount of time. But it was definitely worth it. Big thanks and hugs to everyone involved.
Love & Freedom will be published by Choc Lit on 1 June 2011. You can buy it now or read the first two chapters. And you can listen to a recording of the FREE prequel chapter here.
Sue Moorcroft writes romantic novels of dauntless heroines and irresistible heroes for Choc Lit. Combining that success with her experience as a creative writing tutor, she’s written a ‘how to’ book, Love Writing – How to Make Money From Writing Romantic and Erotic Fiction (Accent Press). Sue also writes short stories, serials, articles and courses and is the head judge for Writers’ Forum. She’s a Katie Fforde Bursary Award winner.
Check out her website www.suemoorcroft.com and her blog at http://suemoorcroft.wordpress.com/ for news and writing tips. You’re welcome to befriend Sue on Facebook or Follow her on Twitter.