Saturday, 14 February 2009


Asking a complete stranger for their (unpaid) help can be a little difficult. I'm getting better at it, but - whether emanating from some childhood fear of rejection, I'm not sure - it doesn't come naturally. As I've alluded to before, I find it essential to know as much as possible about a subject before I write about it. And so, bristling with my usual trepidation, I sent an email winging across the Atlantic asking someone I've never met or spoken to, if they would kindly talk to me about something deeply personal and likely upsetting. A couple of hours later, a reply offering just that and more.

Thank you, Louise.


Louise said...

You are so welcome, Tom - and thank you so much for the lovely message. And I think I get what you mean.

Having needed the stories of others for my own book, I felt a sense of guilt that I might be "exploiting" or worsening the pain the pain of others for gain of my own. It can be teriffying to approach people. But people (usually) don't do this unless they really want to. When it concerns distressing subject matter, in my experience, respondents can often find the opportunity to set their experiences out emotionally rewarding for them too :)It's made that much easier when one knows that the researching writer is also a person of decency.

Your stance on being able to "write true" for your readers by engaging in research is absolutely necessary. Even in fiction, one must have an idea what they're talking about or, as you know, it just doesn't work and insults the intelligence of readers.

Best wishes and looking forward to seeing the work,


SueG said...

I know what you mean, Tom, but I had the same
experience researching for Tangled Roots.
People are usually so pleased just to be
Asked. Quite encouraging, actually.

isaac i annabel said...

Hi Tom,

My couple and I had been interviewing people for two years to write our book, and it was wonderful how they opened their houses and memories for us... It's not exactly the same case, as we were asking them for another person's history, but there was (always) also the strange feeling that people would say no (and sometimes happened).
But most of the people we met were in fact eager to talk with us to share their lives, and it was one of the best experiences I've ever had!


TOM J VOWLER said...

That's good to hear, Sue and Isaac. I'm probably still scarred by my brief stint as a journalist, where doors were regularly slammed in my face.

Annabel said...

I'm sorry Tom!

I made didn't choose the correct google id. It was me, Annabel, who wrote the last comment... Sorry again!


Tania Hershman said...

I've never done research for fiction myself, but as a former journalist, I know just how hard it is, that cold-calling, or cold-emailing, the hope that someone will help you just because they can. And over all the years I only ran into one person who refused, to my face in fact. How lovely that you found Louise, and Louise, how generous of you, more power to the decent people!

TOM J VOWLER said...

Confusion cleared up, Annabel!

Yes, Tania, I'm slowly getting used to people's warm response when you tell them you'd like their help for a book you're writing. Am gonna blog sometime about a website that links writers with scientists from all fields. I've never used it, but all those signed up to it are happy to give their time freely for writerly research with the aim of getting science into fiction, thus inspiring the next batch (apt collective noun?) of scientists.