The Risks of Research

After leaving Amsterdam, my head full of all the things I’d learned at the SCBWI Europolitan Conference, we headed to Paris to spend time researching for my next book.

IMAG8694This one is a YA adventure set in Paris called Paris Hunting. It’s about a girl who goes hunting for clues to a World War 2 family mystery in Paris, and she ends up being the hunted. It’s pure adventure and it is a lot of fun to write.

IMAG8778I was in Paris to look for settings. The outdoor ones were easy. The Seine with its stone steps, sewer tunnels, houseboats and many bridges is the ideal place for an action packed place.

There are also many large and beautiful parks where my characters can encounter danger – and these were easy to explore and photograph.

IMAG9107But my plot necessitated that I set my story in a museum. I didn’t want to use the Louvre. I was looking for somewhere more quirky and I found it. It was a small, eclectic museum, quaint and heavily guarded.

It wasn’t till I spoke to my writer’s group when I got back home that I realised that this last piece of research could have got me arrested.

IMAG9184Working out how my character would break in and out of the museum necessitated lots of note taking and photos. I wanted my writing to be authentic. I didn’t want readers to visit the museum and say, ‘that could never have happened’.

I am now writing the scenes while the setting is still fresh in my head – and so is the anxiety I felt while doing this research, particularly in a place where they spoke no English and I spoke no French and my actions may have been very difficult to explain – except to another writer who knows the lengths that must be gone to in order to make a setting believable.

IMAG9178I was lucky, but I was also quite well prepared. I had done a lot of research in advance. So here’s my guide to risky research.

1. Always take someone with you who can keep watch – and bail you out of jail if necessary.
2. Take someone who speaks the language so they can explain things for you.
3. Do as much pre-research as you can so you can be focussed in your information gathering and minimise the time you spend in a potentially risky situation.
4. Carry proof that you are a writer and perhaps a story outline to prove your need for research is genuine.
5. Be confident in what you are doing (even if you have to fake it). Remember that your motives are purely harmless and proceed with confidence – this is less likely to arouse suspicion.

Good luck:)

IMAG9293I’m off to work on Paris Hunting. But if you have a story of where research nearly landed or did land you in trouble, I’d love to hear it. Feel free to share your experiences and tips in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)




24 thoughts on “The Risks of Research

  1. What an exciting post, Dee. Sounds like your experience is a story itself! Once I was researching in a very old cemetery which was on somebody’s farm, and I felt like I shouldn’t have been there, but I did find the headstone I was looking for.

  2. “Always take someone with you who can keep watch – and bail you out of jail if necessary.” Is good advice and makes me wonder what you did! Your book sounds great, good luck with it.

  3. Hi Amanda,

    Thanks for commenting. You’ll be pleased to know that I wasn’t arrested, and I didn’t do anything illegal, but some of my research might have been seen as suspicious if you didn’t know what I was doing, and the guards spoke no English and I spoke no French so explaining would have been difficult 🙂


  4. How exciting to be in Paris doing research for your new story (which sounds intriguing). I like your tips and am glad you didn’t get arrested. I guess you would have looked a bit suspicious peering into windows, looking for ways to escape and taking photos.

  5. Congrats Dee, On your research for “Paris Hunting”. Love the title and the premiss. I enjoyed reading your tips on “The risks of Research”. Good luck with writing your next draft… Cheers, Karen Tyrrell PS Love the photos of Paris ❤

  6. LOL. Yes, I’ve done that, once at the Smithsonian, and had a guard come wandering by, wondering why I was taking pictures of the ceiling and possible places to hide cameras. Everyone wanted pictures of the big blue diamond, so I was okay there. Fortunately, we both spoke English and I gave him my plot. Not sure if he believed me, but I wasn’t sent away or arrested.

    One other note: Never say something like, “There has to be a way around the security system,” Writers are known to muse out loud, and we don’t know if there are guards who do speak English but won’t because they figure we don’t speak French (or whatever language). I often plot out loud with my husband, forgetting where I am. So far, I haven’t been arrested.


  7. Sounds like you are a woman after my own heart, Deb 🙂

    So glad you haven’t been arrested either.

    My hubby is very good to plot with too. He has some great ideas.

    And yes, plotting out loud in those situations is very risky.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences 🙂


  8. Wow, Dee, now you have me curious. And worried. I very much want to read that story when it’s finished. And I’m dying to know which museum you were at and what you did there. (Would have been happy to be the interpreter. I’m all for crazy things, if not necessarily risky ones.
    Cheers from Paris,
    Mayken (the one with the red hat)

  9. I’m all for red hats too, Mayken:)

    Thanks for the offer. I think an interpreter might have been very handy.

    Writing is a crazy business isn’t it?

    I hope your writing is going well.

    Dee 🙂

  10. It is indeed. My current WIP is set halfway around the world too, and I don’t get to go there for research. But then the story doesn’t rely on setting as much as yours does. Did I mention I’m *very* curious? I love stories set in places I know. Especially when they get the settings right 😉
    Cheers, Mayken

  11. In Duncan, British Columbia, Canada. It’s a small town on Vancouver Island, about 45 min north of Victoria. I’ve been there twice, but both visits pre-date my WIP idea.
    There’s no particular reason for the setting, my story wanted me to set it there. And I went along with it. Who am I to argue with my story? 😉


  12. Dee, can you just imagine if we went researching together? We’d have to leave our money with our husbands so they could bail us out of the pokey because we started diagraming the security systems and saying, “There’s a hole right here.. How we going to get them from there to here without being seen? See if you can walk around the wall…”


  13. Mayken, that sounds like a really interesting setting. Isn’t it funny how a story can evolve from a setting. I agree with you totally, we have to go in the direction our story takes us 🙂

    Good luck with it. I look forward to hearing more about your story.


  14. Mayken, there is no arguing with your story. If you put it in the wrong setting, the characters (what I call Paper People) are unhappy and spend the entire length of the story talking about where they really want to be. A lot of my stories want to be set on the north Oregon Coast. I’m now living here and can certainly see why.

    Dee, We really have to do this. When are you coming to the West Coast of the US again? I’ll pick you up in Portland or Seattle. We have one of the biggest bookstores ever… Are you tempted?

  15. I am very tempted, Deb:)

    Thanks for the lovely offer to pick me up.

    Unfortunately, I have pretty much depleted my writing travel fund with my trip to Europe. But I will start saving – although I must warn you, it will take me a while.

    I did have some plans to go to Chicago for research next April, but not sure I’ll have funds for that either. Will see how I go.


  16. I’d love to see you. I was inspired by Australia when I was there. Loved the names and some of the places. They’ve ended up spotted about in my science fiction novels as planets or towns. And I have a whole bush-like setting planned with a town of sentient Mythical Furry Hopping Beasts. (I didn’t see Roos for three weeks, so named them that, then our cousin took us to Sapphire Beach in Coffs Harbour and after that they were everywhere. Not Mythical anymore, but still Furry Hopping Beasts).

    I miss Australia and really wish we had had time to get to Melbourne. We wanted to stay, but alas, no jobs and no sponsor. Maybe we’ll still figure a way in. Until then, we are planning a return trip when money allows.


  17. We have lots of Kangaroos at our place, Deb. We love to watch them in the paddock in spring when they are boxing 🙂

    Hopefully you will make it back some day soon. Yes unfortunately, there’s not a lot of work here at the moment.

    Have a great writing week:)


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