By Maggie James
As a novelist, I often joke that my internet browsing history wouldn't stand up to police scrutiny. I frequently research unsavoury topics, along with some fascinating ones. The most interesting so far has been Stockholm syndrome, which I examined in The Second Captive. For many people, the notion that a hostage can develop a strong attachment to, or even love, their abusers/kidnappers is hard to comprehend. It certainly made for an absorbing research topic! I blogged about it here.
Not all things I've checked out have been such fun. For my next novel, Burning Obsession, I looked into compulsive firesetting, which brought me to the distinction between arson, pyromania and pyrophilia. Arson is the criminal act of deliberately setting light to property, often done for kicks or financial gain. Pyromania is different, as it involves an obsession with fire, resulting in anything being a target for burning, not just buildings. It was when I checked into pyrophilia that my research took a distinctly unsavoury turn. Pyrophiliacs are sexually aroused by fire, a fact I gleaned from a website devoted to unusual fetishes. I dislike sexual prudishness and don't care what capers consenting adults get up. However, some of the contributors to this website weren't concerned whether their sexual partner was consenting, an adult, or even human. The descriptions of torture turned my stomach. If I could scrub the mental images from my brain with bleach, I would, so enough on that topic.
Here come the maggots and spider bites...!
What else have I needed to research? Here's a rundown:
His Kidnapper's Shoes - genetics concerning eye colour/the onset of childhood memories;
Sister, Psychopath - head trauma/babies being suffocated by cats;
Guilty Innocence - anonymity orders;
Blackwater Lake - hoarding disorder/decomposition rates of bodies in cold and dark water.
Burning Obsession - ketamine abuse and the hallucinations known as the k-hole.
For fun, I posed the question in a Facebook group, asking fellow authors about the worst thing they've ever had to research. Some, like me, reported having to check out ghastly sexual exploits. Here are some of the responses:
'The effects of a dangerous spider bite.'
'I researched how the KGB used to trial poisons on prisoners.'
'The effects of decomposition in water . . . how difficult is it to lop a head off with a sword . . . how far can a knife penetrate a chest and NOT kill the 13-yr-old victim instantly . . . home-made bombs. The list goes on!!'
'Civil War amputations and battlefield treatments.'
'Human trafficking and buried bodies.'
'Medieval torture - those guys were nuts!!!'
'Live maggots... too gross to write about. Give me a body any day...'
'How blue bottles lay eggs in dead bodies, and how that helps date the death. Left it out in the end!'
'A scene where a character has a needle plunged into her heart to revive her.'
What about you?
Wow, that's a fun list! I don't doubt I'll have lots more unsavoury topics to delve into as I develop my writing career - it's just a question of what. Research isn't something I especially enjoy, but I'm keen to make my novels accurate. I still blush with embarrassment at the email I received that pointed out Scotch is a whisky, not a pine tree, and that my reference to Scotch pines in Blackwater Lake needed amending. Oops!
How about you? Have you ever read something ghastly in a novel and wondered, 'How the hell could the author investigate something so awful?' Authors, what about you? Have you ever researched anything stomach-churning? Would your internet browsing history stand up to inspection by the police?! Leave a comment and let me know!
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