Q & A with Tanis Rideout

Q: Tell us about the importance of research in making a novel work. Really work. 

A: I tend to write rather research intensive work – maybe because I enjoy that part of the writing process so much. I’ve been lucky. Research has afforded me the chance to travel to cities, to meet people, to spend time in places that I never would have otherwise. And there’s something about being in a place that your characters occupy or have occupied, I think, particularly if they are historical figures, but even if they’re people who exist in some version of the real world.

If you can walk down the streets that you characters walk down, look at the buildings, feel the air, it gives you new tools to draw them. You can understand how they move down the street, is it quick and easy, slow and painful? You realise what places sound like, what they smell like. All of which can be the things you don’t think of, if you’re conjuring a place entirely out of your head.

And it’s the small things, the weight of paper, the colour of ink, the size of envelopes – tiny things that have changed over time, or from place to place, that help to conjure a world in its entirety, I think. The right detail can do so much for a reader to build a world that they can believe in.

Of course, it means that as a writer I often know more than I could ever possibly incorporate, and knowing where to draw that line is hugely important, you don’t want to bog down narrative of character in too much research. And I hate reading stuff that feels like the writer is showing off how much research they have done. I want it to feel seamless. I want the world to feel wet with its own reality, is how I often think of it.

So yes, for me, the background work, the reading, the wandering, the staring, the chasing down strange bits of information, is hugely important. Without the characters, the ideas only exist in a vacuum.

More about Tanis...

Tanis Rideout is the author of a novel, Above All Things, which was long-listed for the Dublin IMAPC Award, a NYT Editor's Choice, and winner of ITAS Premio Montagna and a poetry collection, Arguments with the Lake.