Since the release of my first book, The Pomegranate Tree, people have been asking me how I managed to keep all my research together, as well as what sort of program I used for the actual writing. It was quite an interesting process so I thought I’d share it.
By the time I had worked out the plot lines, my characters and where the story would be set, I realised I required more than just a note pad or a document file. I needed to find some way of keeping everything under one umbrella, so to speak. It was at this point that I was introduced to Scrivener, which I believe to be the most amazing writing platform (no, this is not an endorsement — just my opinion).
The beauty of Scrivener is that everything you write and research is all together, not spread across several files and includes different formats or layouts for different writing styles. For the novelist, in addition to the section for your actual chapters, there are a sub-sections for characters and their biographies, for research notes, for general information – in fact you can have as many sections as necessary.
This meant that I was able to keep tabs of everything very easily. Every time I introduced a new character, I added it to my list along with any pertinent background information. It could be as simple as their name, but could extend to what they looked like, their role in the story, what their jobs were and so on. In the modern world, this often covered both the character’s work as part of the excavation team and what they did in their regular life. In the ancient world it was more related to how the character fitted into the hierarchy of the Zealot enclave. In this way I built up short back stories which not only helped while I was writing The Pomegranate Tree but has also proved very useful for the sequels.
The next step was to correlate as much general information about Masada and its surrounds as I felt necessary. Not only its history, but also the excavations and how the citadel looks today. Names of local towns, even flora and fauna. ‘The Pomegranate Tree’ also mentions a visit to the Dead Sea, so it was important for me to find out what it had to offer; such as the resorts and tourist attractions, as well as its distance from Masada and whether it was a place the archaeologists could travel to with relative ease.
Then there was research into every day life in ancient Judaea. I looked into their traditions and laws, clothing, food and medicine — most especially medicine. Having decided that my Hannah of ancient Masada was going to be a healer, I needed to understand what techniques were used; the treatments that were available and what medicines, ointments and balms could be created, mixed and dispensed.
I discovered that Jewish physicians were not only highly trained, but also extremely well regarded throughout the known civilised world – and have continued to be so throughout history. What amazed me was the number of essential oils, herbs, plant, roots, minerals and mineral extracts that had healing properties, proving to be most efficacious. Many of these were available and accessible to people in ancient Judaea and those that weren’t easily obtained, could be acquired from merchants travelling the trading routes through the desert.
Once I had started down the track of researching, it kept piling up. Archaeological techniques, how any finds might be treated, preserved or conserved in such an isolated environment. Understanding ancient funeral rituals and marriage rituals the list went on. I know my book is a work of fiction, but I wanted to be sure that, as far as possible, anything I wrote about was as close to actuality as possible.
Funnily enough, I enjoyed doing the research as much as I enjoyed the writing. Some things I knew about, others I had a vague awareness of, but much was completely new to me and connected me to my story and characters in ways I did not anticipate.
Being able to have all this information at my fingertips, so to speak, meant that instead of having to keep searching through piles of papers and documents, I could just go to the relevant file within the project. Okay then – my research was neatly organised into one platform; I had my idea, I had my characters and I had gathered a huge amount of background material – now all I had to do was make it work.
Oh & I’m always happy to answer any questions about my writing process – chaotic though it may be!