Today, I’m pleased to welcome to Tuesday Writing Tips, good writer friend and researcher extraordinaire, Janeen Brian.
Those of you who know me and my website will know that I have a thing for camels so I couldn’t resist the chance to chat with Janeen about how she wrote her two wonderful camel books, Hoosh and Columbia Sneezes.
Janeen is a diligent researcher and spent over 1500 hours researching and writing Hoosh and collected 36 files of information.
Janeen, you travelled to Alice Springs to see The Voyages Camel Cup to research this book? How important do you think it is to do field research when you are writing a book like Hoosh?
In my opinion field study is vital. I can’t imagine how else I would’ve been able to research the topic of camels in the outback of Australia with any veracity if I hadn’t had some field experience. I was able to come face-to-face with my subject matter and in doing so, gained far more knowledge and awareness as well as discovering unexpected information. Aspects of my field study included experiencing the Camel Cup race, interviewing camel breeders and handlers, viewing museums that highlighted camels as part of Australia’s early development, and riding a camel.
Why is it important?
How can you write convincingly about a broad, information topic if you don’t have some vital experience? We often research prior to, or during the writing of fiction, but since my topic was huge and encompassed many features of camels, I knew I had to research at ‘grass roots’ level as much as possible. Prior to writing Hoosh! I knew nothing about camels and so, in my research, I gathered more information than was necessary – somewhat similar to writing fiction where we create more detail background for our characters than will ever turn up in the final draft.
There was another important reason for field study in researching this book. Apart from providing current and accurate information, I also wanted it to carry a ‘narrative tone’. For that to ring true I needed two things; a sense of the anecdotal and the use of the five senses. I needed to experience the landscape and climate, touch the type of herbage eaten by camels, smell their aroma, drink the milk and listen to their sounds and those of their trainers. I couldn’t have written Hoosh! simply by researching from written material, be it books, primary resources or the internet.
As you can imagine, there were many! But I think the most fascinating piece of research was the discovery that up until the 1950s, police patrolled vast stretches of the outback by camel. It had never crossed my mind that areas that spanned hundreds of thousands of square miles/kilometres would’ve needed policing. And of course, in that rugged terrain, camels were ideal vehicles.
Can you tell us where and how you found it?
It was a case of pure serendipity. By chance I was one day flicking through the pages of an Adelaide newspaper. I came across the obituaries page where several people of note were cited. One, in particular, caught my eye. It was for Max Homes, and the obituary stated he was one of the last South Australian outback police officers to patrol by camel.
That was an eye-opener for me and I quickly scanned the report, especially looking for names of any descendents. Close to the end, it mentioned that later in his life Max moved ‘to Christies Beach to live with a son.’ My heart beat as I checked the phone book. Sure enough there was the same surname, an address and phone number. I made contact and to my amazement, the grown-up son not only handed me his father’s journal that contained newspaper clippings of his police life in the outback but also told me with affection of his pet camel when he was a boy. From that wonderful experience, came a whole, new, unexpected chapter topic.
What was the most difficult part of researching for this book?
Apart from striving for information accuracy, I’d say sourcing the photographs, because it was all up to me.
Why was it hard?
To begin with, I’d done little research of this nature. Sourcing photographs was time-consuming, fraught with copyright problems and potentially costly, since I was paying upfront.
How did you overcome it?
I made hundreds of phone calls seeking help with visual material. I checked the internet searching for names of people who had some connection with camels or the camel industry. I contacted tourist offices that were willing to provide certain photographs gratis or for a minimal cost. As much as possible I used my own photographs and spread the word to friends and acquaintances, hoping it would bring some rewards. In many instances it did, however not all photographs offered could be used, either because they lacked reproduction quality or the information about them was scant. Those with potential I either made copies of, or if I did need to keep the originals for some purpose, I had to protect them for many month and return them safely. Once a camel handler in northern South Australia gave me a bunch of old photos in an envelope, giving me permission to use any of them. Naturally I was thrilled, until I discovered copies in books etc. Alarm bells rang. The handler was unable to remember how he came upon the photos in the first place, but assured me he didn’t mind which ones I used for the book! I, however, was pale at the thought of copyright problems and spent countless hours checking numerous sources for duplication, and/or extra information.
How important is it to verify your sources? How do you do this?
In that particular instance, I trawled through books, internet sites and photographs cited in various state and territory library archives.
Thanks Dee, for your great, explorative questions. I enjoyed revisiting Hoosh!, Columbia and camels. Thank you so much for hosting me and I hope one day you get your wish and have your own camel!
Janeen will be back here on Thursday with more great tips and information on how she researched both Hoosh and Columbia Sneezes. Hope you can join us then.
If you want to know more about camels, research and writing, check out Janeen’s fabulous blog at http://janeenjottings.blogspot.com/ where she’s going to have more great tips and tales.