Today, I’m pleased to welcome good writerly friend, Tania McCartney to DeeScribe Writing. Tania is sharing her research tips and she’s visiting as part of the blog tour to celebrate the release of her fabulous new book, Australian Story
Tania McCartney is an author of children’s books and adult non-fiction. Her works include You Name It (Hodder Headline 1995), Handmade Living: a designer collective (Handmade Press 2010) and the Riley the Little Aviator series (latest title: Riley and the Grumpy Wombat: A journey around Melbourne, Ford Street Publishing 2011). She is also an established magazine writer, editor and blogger, and is a NYR12 ambassador for the ACT. She lives in Canberra with a husband, two kids and a mountain of books (especially history books). www.taniamccartney.com
The Research Process – Australian Story
by Tania McCartney
What is it about research? Some people love it, some people hate it; I fall into the former category, and then some. I’ve always been obsessed with diving into the deep end of almost any topic, and fishing out delicious facts and figures that bring subjects alive and kicking.
If there was a book more in need of research than Australian Story, I’d like to hear about it! Essentially an abridged historical account of the entire history of Australia – from creation through to our very first female prime minister – the book took many, many hours of fact-scouring, and certainly didn’t start out ‘abridged’.
Gathering facts and figures to tell Australia’s story was a fascinating but lengthy process – and I started out with many more entries than I needed. I began by keeping a Word document of all my findings, including entries I knew were not going to be wholly appropriate for a children’s book. Including these entries in the initial drafts was vital to help me gain a ‘whole picture’ view of our past – and also helped me place events chronologically, and make more educated decisions on what should be cut.
I frequently saved my Word documents as second, third, fourth, etc, files in order to keep a series of updated drafts. This was important due to the large amount of entries I was finding. As entries were cut and added to, I knew the possibility of losing entries – or inadvertently tampering with their accuracy – was high.
The other issue I had with finding entries for the timeline was questionable accuracy. Not only online, which is rife with inaccuracies and subjective information, but also in the history books. Accounts shift and change with popular opinion – so not all dates or recollections would match up, especially on entries before the mid-19th Century. It was important to document each version of these entries so they could be fact-checked. Indeed, some entries were reluctantly deleted in the end, due to an inability to satisfactorily legitimise the content.
Other entries to be deleted were those that were laborious, boring, convoluted, not-so-important or age-inappropriate. Sometimes it was difficult letting these entries go, but it was vital to streamline entries and ensure they were appealing and relevant to children, as well as to the shaping of our nation. Australian Story is by no means a comprehensive and all-inclusive version of our country’s history, but it has turned into a phenomenal and child-appropriate resource for primary school age kids – for whom I’ve been determined to make history ‘cool’ again.
Much of my research was done online and cross-checked ad infinitum. I made certain the bulk of it was done on reputable websites, such as government departments or legitimised historical sites. I also researched entries at libraries and in text books. Entries were fact-checked by historians, teachers, experts, government departments, Indigenous advisors and other professionals before finalising. Then they were checked again.
One of the joys of researching this book was discovering the entries I initially knew nothing (or little) about. As each new entry unfolded, even more would be discovered – it was like opening a multi-layered gift that just kept on giving. I’m so grateful, in particular, to the professionals who mentioned timeline entries I had inadvertently omitted – for these entries often turned out to be very important, most particularly when it came to relaying them to our children.
For this kind of book, I therefore feel that a collaborative effort is key. Compiling and revising (and revising and revising) this material over and over again was dangerous in that I frequently became too close to it, so having others scour and fact-check was vital for accuracy and clarity.
Another aspect of my research process for Australian Story was a very visual one. I tend to work and think visually, so I compiled page layouts as I went along, especially towards the final stages. Text was not the only thing needed for Australian Story. Being a visually-based book, using images from the NLA’s extensive Digital Collection, I was tasked with choosing images to accompany most of my research findings – and this was probably my favourite part of all.
I kept a spread sheet correlating images to text. Laying out pages in draft form with the images I sourced also helped me see where any visual ‘holes’ might be. Of course, not all entries could include images, so it was important to strike a visual balance.
Researching Australian Story was one of the most challenging, uplifting and rewarding processes I’ve ever been through as an author. Sure, it was daunting at times, but keeping and updating regular drafts of your work makes it a whole lot easier, as does taking teensy bites and moving forward, step-by-step, without becoming overwhelmed.
If you are tasked with such research, think about ways you can make the task fit more neatly with your mental processes. If you are a visual, use ways that will maximise a visual slant, even if it’s keeping a running diagram or chat. If you work better with lists or themes, divide your work up appropriately. Keeping separate documents with headings such as Notes, Web Addresses, Contacts, Bibliography, will also help you keep your research on track.
Researching books is a monumentally rewarding part of being an author. Emotional, dynamic, challenging and enlightening, it’s far far far from boring. And the reward is well worth the effort.
Wow, thanks Tania for this fascinating insight into the research process.
ABOUT ‘AUSTRALIAN STORY’
Take a trip into the past––from the explosive beginnings of our planet to modern day Australia, in this fascinating journey through time. Featuring succinct entries on historical moments over the past 47 billion years, Australian Story covers ecological change, politics, invention, war, immigration, celebration, culture, modern technology and more.
Illustrated with a striking collection of photographs and images from the NLA’s digital collection, this is history for children like never before, and is a fascinating snapshot of our country. Australian Story tells who we once where, who we are today . . . and where we are going. Australian story is aimed at children in both Key Stage I and II.
Australian Story: an illustrated timeline (1 March 2012), $24.95
National Library of Australia, ISBN: 9780642277459
TANIA IS VISITING ALL THESE GREAT BLOGS ON TOUR
Australian Story Blog Tour, March 2012
Monday 5 March
Blog Tour Schedule and Book Giveaway
Kids Book Review
Book Launch Party Wrap-Up
Tania McCartney’s Blog
Tuesday 6 March
Australian Story Research Process
Book Review and 10 Reasons Why History is Exciting
Wednesday 7 March
Australian Story Teaching Notes for Key Stage I
Sheryl Gwyther’s Blog
Book Review and Teaching Notes Ideas for Key Stage II
The Book Chook
Kids’ Book Capers
Image-Sourcing for Australian Story
Thursday 8 March
Reading Upside Down
Pass It On
Bug in a Book
Friday 9 March
The Writing Process for Australian Story
Sally Murphy’s Blog
Books for Little Hands
Saturday 10 March
Kids Book Review
Posie Patchwork Blog
Sunday 11 March
My Little Bookcase
Australian Women Online
Blog Tour Wrap-Up
Tania McCartney’s Blog