Do you choose a story, or does it choose you? - Louise Boland

I heard someone suggest on the radio this morning, that you don’t really choose your favourite song, it chooses you.  And I wondered if the same might be said of the book one chooses to write. 

I’ve no idea what makes one friend wake up one morning and decide to write a detective story set in medieval Scotland and yet another be determined to craft a love story based in modern times – I expect a psychologist could tell me.  The one thing I do know is that the choice one makes (or that is made for one!) has an enormous impact on how much of your life will be left by the time the novel is finished.

I’m talking here, of course, about RESEARCH.  That dreaded beast that can be a joy, a drudge, an inspiration, a way to make new friends, or all of the above rolled into one.

At the moment, I’m groaning about the topic I’ve chosen for a novel. I now have a stack of research reading material that will take me several months to get through, and I can’t seem to stop accumulating more – cutting things out of newspapers and magazines, buying books.  It’s got to stop or I’ll never have any time for writing.  

Fairlight Books
The Glow Worm by Barbara Mercer
One of the short stories we published on Fairlight Shorts last month was The Glow Worm, by Barbara Mercer.  It’s set in England during a time of religious turmoil, just before the birth of William Shakespeare.  The story centres on Shakespeare’s father, John, and his struggle to reconcile his faith with the iconoclasm raging around him, and which he is being instructed to carry out.

When I spoke to Barbara about the story, I was overwhelmed by her vast understanding of the period, including the history of the Shakespeare family and the religious comings and goings of differing faiths that went on at the time.  Barbara told us she was fascinated to consider how ordinary people, those who had to actually carry out the destruction of the church statues, would have felt about it. 

Fairlight Books
Saints and Trinkets - a story's research unravelled
In the end, we published not only the story, but also an article called Saints and Trinkets giving more information on the fascinating research behind it.  You can read both the story and the article on our website, but the links to both are below.

Right now, though, I had better get back to the pile of research books, or the writing will never begin…

The Glow Worm by Barbara Mercer is available to read for free at:

The article about Barbara’s fascinating research as told to James Foster, can be found here:


Bill Kirton said…
Yes, a familiar experience, Louise. I found that part of the problem was that, while I knew I had enough material to do justice to the period (Scotland 1840s), many of the things I learned were so fascinating, IO kept on searching - just for my own satisfaction. You're right, though - we have to know when to stop.
Jane said…
This resonates with me. I have several stories which have simply claimed my attention and refuse to budge until I give them life. I consider it a hostage situation. It's a bit frightening.
Unknown said…
Interesting post!
Having started producing fiction later in life, I have to be realistic about time available. Much as I love historical novels, and much as I'd love to write a novel set in the seventeenth century, I write instead about what I already know in some depth - life today, social and psychological problems and how they can be tackled. But I have allowed the main man in my latest book to be a historian who specialises in the seventeenth century - so have indulged myself a little.

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