Janeen Brian’s Tips on Researching & Writing – Part Two

Today, Janeen Brian is back at Tuesday Writing Tips to talk more about the research process involved with her two camel books, Hoosh and Columbia Sneezes.

Can you tell us about the most moving camel story you uncovered when you were doing the research for Hoosh?

More than a story, I think it was an attitude that moved me.

Whose story was it and why did it move you?

When the editor proposed I write an information book about camels, I agreed, because of my respect for the animals and their ability to adapt to the harshest living conditions.

By the time I had finished researching and writing, that respect and amazement for the camel had deepened. However, it now went hand-in-hand with the original trainers and owners who first brought camels to Australia – the Afghans, as they were commonly called, although the men who crossed the oceans in the 1800s, living in the holds of ships with their animals came from many countries including India, Pakistan as well as Afghanistan.

Cameleer's memorabilia

For months on end, these hardy men trekked the long, lonely stretches of sandy, rugged terrain. They were separated from their wives and families back in their homeland, and to a large extent, ostracised by Anglo-Europeans because of cultural and religious differences. However, those same settlers relied entirely on camel transportation to bring them the goods they so desperately needed. No corner shop to be seen! Prior to cars and trucks, camels carried every item needed for everyday life, from windmills to roofing iron, schoolbooks to sugar and wool bales to wire.

My respect for those early camel men and their animals will always remain with me.

You took over 1500 hours to research and write this book? Why did it take so long? Is there anything you would do differently next time?

Although I made an outline of what I wanted to research, I probably over-researched in my need to feel more confident with the material. The topic also grew as I discovered more unexpected information. And because I had never tackled such a book before, I was treading new ground in both sourcing and noting.

interviewing

However, nothing is ever straightforward. Verifying one small piece of information alone took six hours. In 1866, a steamer carrying the first load of camels arrived in South Australia. But was the steamer called the Blackwall or the Blackwell? It was written both ways in many books and newspapers. I finally validated it as the Blackwall through carrying out a number of searches at various maritime museums.

I believe you collected 36 folders of information for the book. Where are they now? Do you have any tips on how to store research information?

I have culled some notes but the majority of research still lies in folders in large, rollaway plastic tubs in my office. It would need another review to decide on what else to cull and what to save. A librarian has told me that special material, ie primary sources, documents or photographs should be stored in acid-free plastic sleeves.

When you were researching for Columbia Sneezes did you find a camel that was allergic to sand?

No. That was purely a tale.

Do camels really do what Columbia does to stop the sand getting in his nose?

Yes, they do.

Where did you get this research from?

That was one of those aha! moments. The original resolution of the rhyming picture-book story wasn’t working. I had tried many different versions during the editing stage when suddenly a piece of random research from my information book, Hoosh! popped into my head and neatly solved the problem.

Inspiration for Columbia Sneezes

Did the research inspire the idea for the book?

In a way it did. Whilst in Alice Springs at The Voyages Camel Cup race, I bought a small soft-toy, rainbow coloured camel. Back home, I set it on top of my printer and whenever I felt exhausted or frustrated with the project, I’d look at the little camel and somehow find the energy to keep going. One day, my young grandson and I made up a story using the little camel as a character. He was a sneezy camel, and several years later I used that story as a basis for Columbia Sneezes!

Do you have any other tips for us about the research process?

These days, the internet offers greater access than ever to research, but use it widely because often the material isn’t validated and can vary. However, it’s a great tool to lead you towards both primary and secondary sources. Similarly, read widely because information in books can vary as well.

Cross-referencing is good because often particular errors can otherwise simply be passed on. Oral transcriptions, available from libraries, are a great source of real life information, often triggering story ideas as well as giving first-hand knowledge or attitudes of the person, or of the time. The same with diaries. Much information can be gleaned too from studying every aspect of a photograph. And, importantly, be aware of people’s time, and be prepared to thank them.

Thanks so much for visiting DeeScribe writing and sharing your fascinating experiences with us, Janeen.

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.

NEXT WEEK AT TUESDAY WRITING TIPS, POET STEPHEN WHITESIDE IS VISITING TO TALK ABOUT  MEDITATION AND WRITING

Tuesday Writing Tip – CAMELS, RESEARCH AND ROAD TRIPS with Janeen Brian

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.

Afghan mind-mapping

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.


What was the most fascinating piece of research you found when writing this book – the fact that you had been looking for – that sent a tingle down your spine?

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.

Farina 1928 camel trade in its primeThat 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.