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  • Writer's pictureLily Ashton

Book Research Can Be Killing.

Agatha Christie

When people ask me what murder mystery writers do all day, I’m tempted to say that I work out different ways to kill people! As this is not within my realm of knowledge, I do a lot of research. Writers are often told to write about what they know and some have adapted their own experiences as a basis for crime stories.

Agatha Christie killed off nearly half her victims with poison. Her familiarity with lethal substances was based on her nursing experiences during WW1 when she was based in a dispensary. Back then prescriptions were prepared by hand and Christie became familiar with the substances and their effects, details that she packed into her notebooks and then her novels.

Ian Fleming also used his war experiences to create James Bond and his explosive brand of spying.

Damon Runyon actually knew Al Capone and adapted his observations about the man and his associates almost beyond recognition. His stories about the criminal underworld are more ‘gangster chic’ than an accurate record of mobsters and their molls.

For writers who don’t have these personal experiences to draw on, there is research to be done. Thumbing through reference books in the library or prowling the internet usually provide the necessary details. However, with a smorgasbord of information on tap, it’s easy to get distracted. I’ve often found myself wandering down fascinating roads. Researching art forgery techniques for one of my books, I discovered that Jean-Baptiste-Camille Cabot is one of the most forged artists in history. It used to be said that of the 2,500 paintings he produced, 7,800 are in private American collections.

There’s much more. Vodka can be drunk invisibly if it’s injected into oranges and consumed with the fruit’s flesh – thank you Errol Flynn! If called upon, I know how to start a 1921 Austin Seven, whisk up a batch of Blondies and whip out a Bollywood dance sequence. I could also make a wedding dress and construct a house. All of this started as legitimate research for my books. I’ve enjoyed walking with my characters as they dabbled and sometimes triumphed, in these activities.

As for me, I will never star in a Bollywood movie or forge a master oil painting. I can only hope that my stock of fascinating information, will increase my pub quiz score.

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