Thursday, 3 February 2011

The importance of research (or why not to plant a eucalyptus tree in ancient Israel) - 22nd May 2010

I’m busy writing a story set in ancient Israel. In the house where I grew up there was a huge eucalyptus tree. When we planted it, it was tiny but by the time I was a teenager it was towering over all the other trees around, and it still does. I suppose this was why a eucalyptus tree sprung immediately to mind for a childhood garden scene in my new story. In the scene a mother is pining for the son she never had and imagines him walking about the garden – beneath the eucalyptus tree. I’ve always thought of the eucalyptus as a truly Mediterranean tree but before I submitted my story I thought it best to check my facts. It seems this was a good plan. A few minutes on Google and I discovered that the earliest eucalyptus recorded in Israel was in the 1850’s or thereabouts. Rubbish. So no child learning to walk under a eucalyptus tree in 1110 BC then?

Now if you are a tree expert (or you live in Israel) then perhaps you will be rolling your eyes in exasperation at my blatant idiocy. You are quite right. But what it demonstrates is how easy it is to pick up images from your own life and drop them into a story set in a different place or time, completely inappropriately! My happy eucalyptus tree moments could not be picked up and deposited in ancient Israel. What I did discover on my research travels is that Cedar trees are commonly mentioned in the Old Testament, before my story is set. And they were often planted to celebrate the birth of a baby boy. Hurrah! The perfect tree for my story about a childless mother dreaming of her baby boy.

So research is useful and can even enhance the story when you come across that little gem that gives your story authenticity. The novel I am writing is set in the future. Not in any sci fi way, it’s just that the events haven’t happened yet so it has to be in the future. Does this mean I can bypass the research stage and just make it all up? I wish! Most of the story is based in the British Royal residences so I need to know pesky things like where the nursery is and who looks after the horses. Darn it….

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