Down the Research Rabbithole #5 – With Nicole Murphy

Research Rabbit Holes can be fabulously inspirational, or horribly time wasting. They can take you in directions that are wildly irrelevant to your story, or can help you add layers of authenticity and meaning to your work. In this series of blog posts I’m sharing some of my favourite journeys down these Research Rabbit Holes, and I’ve also asked some other writers about their experiences falling into these diabolical black holes of eternal fascination.

IMG_0100This week’s guest is Nicole Murphy, whose work as an author crosses a range of genres, including contemporary paranormal (the Gadda series), science fiction (the Jorda series), as well as contemporary romance and erotica with a hint of the unusual under the pseudonym Elizabeth Dunk.

Tell me a little bit about your latest book and what sort of research you needed to do to write this story.

Much Ado About Love is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, so the
main bit of research was re-reading the play. It was working out the beats in the play, the main plot points, the theme and message of the play and also the characters. Part of this involved re-watching Kenneth Branagh’s version of Much Ado About Nothing – research can be fun! Otherwise, there were little bits of research I had to do for some facts. Eg I went through local council papers to find out how rezoning works. I had to find out how long it would take for a helicopter to get from Bankstown Airport to the south coast of New South Wales (Nowra-ish). Thankfully I based a lot of aspects of this story on places I’d been or things I’d done so it didn’t require too much research.

How does research fit into your writing process? Do you research first, then write, or do you research as you write?

It depends on the story. For example, in my gadda series, I’m often having to do research prior to the story in order to build the alternate world its set in. Otherwise, if I get it wrong, it can involve huge re-writes and that’s annoying. For the contemporary romances, because so many of them are set in places that I know, or in work situations I’m experienced with, there’s not a lot of research required. In that case, I’ll leave it until the editing phase and hope to blazes I’m not going to discover something that will completely change the story (although I did have to stop to work out the rezoning stuff for Much Ado About Love to make sure what I was thinking would work). Every once in a while, you reach a point in a story where you have to do research to move forward. An example of that was in the third book in my Dream of Asarlai trilogy, Rogue Gadda, where I just couldn’t write the scene I needed to write without knowing exactly where in Boston it was taking place and what the houses in that area looked like. I even needed to find some floor plans of the houses in the area to get an idea of how the inside of the houses would work. As a result I have a deep, abiding love for Google Street View and real estate websites.

Is research a distraction or an inspiration?

Prior to writing – an inspiration. The research I did on Irish mythology for the gadda books really informed a lot of the history and thinking around the world (including the name ‘gadda’, which is taken from the word ‘Dagda’, the name of one of the Irish gods). During writing – definitely a distraction. I like to get started with writing and plough through until the end. I think despite all this time, I have a fear that if I get pulled away from a story, I won’t come back and finish it so I don’t risk it by stopping.

Have you ever researched something that made you abandon a story idea? 

There was a point in researching the rezoning stuff for Much Ado About Love that I had a terrible, awful feeling that it wasn’t going to work in the story and I was going to have to rethink everything the antagonist was doing to get at the heroine. It made me sick to the stomach. But then I found a little clause, and realised there was a way around it. You see, generally councils can re-zone an area, but even if that means the wrong type of building ends up on it, the building is not illegal because the correct zoning was in place when it was built. So your block can be rezoned light industrial, but the family home is still safe. It simply means if the people who buy your house wanted to, they could knock your house down and build a factory on the land instead. Doesn’t threaten your building at all, so rezoning in itself wouldn’t cause a problem for my heroine. However, further digging showed if (for example) your family home wasn’t built on the correct zone in the first place or wasn’t properly approved, it becomes an illegal dwelling. At that point, I just had her grandfather forget to fill in some paperwork a few decades ago and hey presto – her livelihood and home are at risk. Phew!

What was the weirdest thing you had to research?

My favourite research story was for a scene for one of the gadda books that didn’t actually end up in print (although a version ended up in a short story). The gadda needed to touch something that contained evil that could contaminate them so couldn’t do it with bare skin. They couldn’t use their power either – it had to be a man-made thing that protected them. No gloves around, so they wrapped their hands in Glad Wrap. To find out if it worked, I did it to myself. I worked out you really do need another person to  wrap your hands in Glad Wrap and make it work but if done properly, you can make a Glad Wrap glove that will enable you to still use your hand while protecting your skin. Got some interesting looks from the husband that day.


Much Ado About Love

Opposites attract—but that doesn’t mean the road to happy-ever-after runs smooth…

Much Ado About LoveTrix Leon and Ben Anthony have two things in common—they don’t believe in love and, together, they set the sheets on fire. Their relationship is safe, uncomplicated, and just what they both need—until John Aragorn shows up and gives them a third thing in common: an enemy.

When their friends decide it’s time for Trix and Ben to admit to themselves—and each other—how they really feel, Trix and Ben are caught in a whirlwind of emotion, a promise of something more. But Aragorn is determined to destroy everything: Trix’s hard work, her future, and her chance at something more with Ben.

Now Ben and Trix are left fighting for the one thing that neither of them knew they wanted: love.

Nicole Murphy is a writer, editor and teacher who writes contemporary romance as Elizabeth Dunk. Much Ado About Love is her tenth publication. Follow Nicole at her website (, on Twitter (@nicole_r_murphy) or on Facebook (Nicole Murphy & Elizabeth Dunk – Author).

Down the Research Rabbit Hole #4 – with JT Clay

Research Rabbit Holes can be fabulously inspirational, or horribly time wasting. They can take you in directions that are wildly irrelevant to your story, or can help you add layers of authenticity and meaning to your work. In this series of blog posts I’m sharing some of my favourite journeys down these Research Rabbit Holes, and I’ve also asked some other writers about their experiences falling into these diabolical black holes of eternal fascination.

Today’s guest is JT Clay, who writes books as bitingly funny as they are thrilling and adventure-packed. Prior to focussing her career on writing, she worked in counter-terrorism and law before switching to waste management, which generated much more dinner-party debate. People care about rubbish. She now works as a technical writer and looks after her mixed-species family. A Single Girl’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse won a 2010 Olvar Wood Fellowship Award and is her first published novel. She lives in Canberra, which she claims is not as dull as people say, but she is notorious for making things up.

Pork Sausage

My first novel, A Single Girl’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, involved more research than you’d imagine. I watched Bear Grylls on repeat, read up on SAS survival techniques and hung out in zombie chat rooms (which are exactly as weird as you’d expect).

Lately, I’ve been working on a time-travel farce set in Auckland in the Roaring Twenties. Although a sci-fi comedy, I approached it like a historical project. I read textbooks, biographies and fiction written during and about the period. I browsed old photos. I watched reams of period TV and endured The Great Gatsby in many, many formats. I kept a log of anachronistic terms and discovered, for instance, that back then you could take your gimp in hand and make love, in public, without social or legal repercussions.

So when Leife asked me to blog about research, I jumped at the chance. I’d already done the groundwork.

When I began writing this time-travel farce, I gave myself a three-week research holiday, during which I wrote only notes. No outlines, no scenes, no dialogue. No fiction. Between the library and the Internet, this research cost only my time.

A lot of primary material lives online. I watched Charlie Chaplin reels. I perused posters exhorting men to ‘grow a mustache – that’s one thing the girls can’t do!’ I listened to old Dippermouth sing and heard a Model T Ford sputter down the road. I read the ‘Auckland Star’ and ‘New Zealand Truth’ for the month of February 1923. I found a recipe for asparagus ices.

What can’t you get off the Internet?

Smells, it turns out. My biggest problem was working out what the place smelled like. I tried searching the Web for scratch ‘n’ sniff sites. Don’t do it. The results are unsavoury.

So I did what any decent author does. I made it up. As a result, I’m much more sympathetic to all those fantasy novels that open with a standard stinky wharf description. They may not be original, but they’re tangible, and more importantly, they meet reader expectations.

I’ve learned about those.

There’s a duel in my novel. If you’re thinking that a duel in 1923 Auckland sounds unlikely, you’d be right. But not impossible, with Auckland’s final duel being fought in 1935.

I couldn’t decide whether my hero would select pistols or swords. Then I heard about Bismarck’s sausage duel, featuring two pork sausages, one laced with roundworm. More of an eating contest really, but an exciting one.

And why not? I was writing a farce, after all. A specialist historian had offered to review the whole thing for free. All I had to do was take copious notes so that, when he challenged the pork sausage incident, I could defend myself.

But first, I tried it out on my partner. The idea, not the pork sausage. The ‘scratch n sniff’ Web search had turned me off practical experimentation by this stage.

My partner nixed it.

But it really happened! Or it would have, if Bismarck hadn’t chickened out.

He didn’t care. It didn’t matter. Too silly, he said. Stick to the pistols.

So I slouched off and learned how to fire a Webley Mark IV revolver via an Internet demonstration delivered by an alarmingly bearded Texan who sounded familiar. I may have met him before in a zombie chat room.

What’s the moral? Do your research, but remember – authenticity beats accuracy every time.


J.T. Clay
Author of A Single Girl’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Down the Research Rabbit Hole #3 – with Alan Baxter


Research Rabbit Holes can be fabulously inspirational, or horribly time wasting. They can take you in directions that are wildly irrelevant to your story, or can help you add layers of authenticity and meaning to your work. In this series of blog posts I’m sharing some of my favourite journeys down these Research Rabbit Holes, and I’ve also asked some other writers about their experiences falling into these diabolical black holes of eternal fascination.

Today’s guest is Alan Baxter, award-winning author of dark fantasy, horror and sci-fi, including the Alex Caine and Balance series. I threw some questions at Alan and here’s what he had to say.

Tell me a little bit about your latest book and what sort of research you needed to do to write this story.
My current novel in progress is a kind of supernatural crime noir thing. Hard to describe, really! It’s set in London and there’s research as well as memory there, as I lived in the UK until my mid-20s and know London well, but still needed to confirm things and double check locations. Google Earth is great for that kind of research. I also needed to research some organised crime and police procedural stuff. All kinds of fun!

How does research fit into your writing process? Do you research first, then write, or do you research as you write?
I do some research first, then more as needed as I go along.

Is research a distraction or an inspiration?
Both! I love it though – one of the best things about writing fiction is the research avenues it can send you down.

magesignWhat was the weirdest thing you had to research?
Probably cults and brainwashing for my novel, MageSign. Weird, but fascinating.

When you’re writing secondary-world or alternate-world stories, how does real-world research contribute to your world-building?
Suspension of disbelief is essential, especially in alternate world stuff, so the more you make the little things convincing, the easier it is to sell the big fantastical things.

Have you ever researched something that made you abandon a story idea?
Not yet! You can always accommodate it, but it does often mean changing what you were planning.

Tell me about a time when your research threw up something that changed your story or a character.
A novella I wrote recently was another one based around crime and police work. Every time I discovered how the police would respond to a certain part of the story, the next part had to change to accommodate that. The whole story kept changing to prevent the police solving the situation before my ideas could play out!

Alan Baxter is a British-Australian author who writes dark fantasy, horror and sci-fi, rides a motorcycle and loves his dog. He also teaches Kung Fu. He lives among dairy paddocks on the beautiful south coast of NSW, Australia, with his wife, son, dog and cat. Read extracts from his novels, a novella and short stories at his website – – or find him on Twitter @AlanBaxter and Facebook, and feel free to tell him what you think. About anything.



Down the Research Rabbit Hole #2 – with Donna Maree Hanson

Research Rabbit Holes can be fabulously inspirational, or horribly time wasting. They can take you in directions that are wildly irrelevant to your story, or can help you add layers of authenticity and meaning to your work. In this series of blog posts I’m sharing some of my favourite journeys down these Research Rabbit Holes, and I’ve also asked some other writers about their experiences falling into these diabolical black holes of eternal fascination.

My first guest is Donna Maree Hanson, author of Shatterwing and Skywatcher, the two books in the dark fantasy Dragonwine series.

Dragonwine Postcard


Since the moon shattered, the once peaceful and plentiful world has become a desolate wasteland. Factions fight for ownership of the remaining resources as pieces of the broken moon rain down, bringing chaos, destruction and death.

The most precious of these resources is dragon wine – a life-giving drink made from the essence of dragons. But the making of the wine is perilous and so is undertaken by prisoners. Perhaps even more dangerous than the wine production is the Inspector, the sadistic ruler of the prison vineyard who plans to use the precious drink to rule the world.

There are only two people that stand in his way. Brill, a young royal rebel who seeks to bring about revolution, and Salinda, the prison’s best vintner and possessor of a powerful and ancient gift that she is only beginning to understand. To stop the Inspector, Salinda must learn to harness her power so that she and Brill can escape, and stop the dragon wine from falling into the wrong hands.

Dragon Wine Book 2 :Skywatcher, the follow on book is also available in ebook and print from Momentum.

Thanks for agreeing to come on my blog! Tell me something about what you’re working on now.

I have a few books in progress and around the place so I’ll tell you about Ruby Heart because I have done quite a bit of research into that as it is a Victorian paranormal romance/gothic horror meld.

What sort of research did you need to do to write this story?

I have a motto. Never let research get in the way of a good story. Once I’ve started I don’t usually stop to research something unless it is majorly critical. I can get sucked into a vortex and not emerge for days and then it can take me a while to get back into drafting. That’s not saying I don’t research. I do.

Ruby Heart required a bit of research and trawling books and the internet for resources and double checking events and fashions. For example, people often equate the bustle with Victorian dress, but the Victorian era was quite long and the bustle (I believe there were two periods of bustles) was rather short lived. I love the bustle, but my heroine, Jemima Hardcastle, isn’t quite into that period yet so she wears bell shaped skirts. Also, there’s lots to read about what a young woman was expected to do in that era. Then there is working out what a classical education was. Now, I love researching England. I’ve been there a number of times and will go back. Last time I went I wanted to go into the sewers. I researched what I could on the internet, but it’s not the same. The sewers are only open in London for a short period in summer. Bugger! So I found a tour in Brighton. I held off booking it because we wanted to check if someone wanted to join us and when I went back to book the places were full and no more tours until 2016. So I still have the sewers to explore. The lesson here is be very focussed on your research if you are paying lots of money to travel! Lucky an author friend gave me a couple of books on what’s beneath London to ease my pain.

The world of Shatterwing is based on a couple of fascinating premises. How did your research for Shatterwing help you build your world?

I’ve been working on this series for a very long time so I’m harking back to the deep dark past here. I did some basic research on dragons…just the mythology and how dragons are represented in a number of cultures. I also did a bit about astronomy, but I’m a pretty bad study there so I had the help of a scientist to make sure my errors weren’t glaring. If there are mistakes they are all mine. Most of the research I did for this particular book was to really sit down and work out which were my favourite fantasy novels and why. For example, I love the Wheel of Time Series (a long time ago now) by Robert Jordan. I realised I that I loved the back story the most—the history, the mysterious devices, the clues that there was something vast and awe inspiring there before. So I wanted to invent something like that; rich in history. I also really liked The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant; for that I think the characters are important and so on. I also love both science fiction and science fantasy, so elements of those genres exist therein Shatterwing also. What I didn’t do is read any books with dragons depicted in them. I think in doing that I was able to put my own slant on these creatures. That’s a case of not researching working best. I was also able to draw on contemporaneous events to fuel the imagination, such as the Boxing Day Tsunami. It helped inspire one small flash back scene. Terrorism also feeds into my work on Dragon Wine.

What was the weirdest thing you had to research?

I usually do background research in my day job as well as novel writing. Sometimes the research done for work comes in useful for writing. I look into amazing stuff that I never would do normally – eg how crude oil is refined; how fuel is distributed around Australia. I’ve also looked at geothermal power generation, such as Rankine systems and fracking. You should see that fracking equipment up close! I did. But you know these questions of yours make me realise how disorganised I am and how I need to be more methodical particularly in keeping track of my research at home. I think about how I want to be and measure it against what I do and I’m sadly disappointed in me.

What was the most interesting or surprising thing your research turned up?

Well I’m a bit of a sponge and due to my day job my head gets filled with a lot of interesting stuff. For me I like it when research turns up ideas for stories. They are the flint spark to the tinder! I’m trying to wrack my brain here…what is the most interesting…I know…I read a book on the workings of the human brain and how the eye and brain perceive colour. I remember being gobsmacked by that. Oh yeah and the Hayflick limit about cell division and senescence. I remember attending a lecture when that was discussed and it blew my mind. That actually featured into my first novel. Not published, but it was fun at the time.

How does research fit into your writing process? Do you research first, then write, or do you research as you write?

I think I’m researching all the time but not in a directed way until I come upon a need. Everything goes into my brain and is refined into parts of story or character. Research is living and learning. Then there is the book reading, documentary watching and internet searching (maps etc),  which is equally important to me. So I may do bits of research and make notes, like with Ruby Heart…a certain amount at the beginning to serve as a launch board. Then I may do a bit in the middle but that’s dangerous, because I can get derailed and then I do more after the first draft to fill in holes and gaps and to improve the work. So when I’m drafting, like I said above, don’t let research get in the way of a good story.

Is research a distraction or an inspiration?

Neither when life is in harmony. I think it’s part of being. Personally, I need to know stuff. Writing something gets me to learn more stuff. But then, if you talk about extremes, researching can be more of a distraction than an inspiration. You need an internal compass that lets you know you are going too far in one direction. If you spend ten years researching something, but don’t actually write anything, then then you have a problem if you are writer, I think. But if you only ever want to write one book that’s steeped in research, then maybe that’s okay. I’m a bit of a bird, I nibble here and peck over there and so I have to change what I’m doing, writing, reading, researching, crafting. My daughter thinks I have ADHD because I seem not to stick at one thing. Stuff you research or observe filters through in your brain and so it’s always there fermenting etc. I’m just not the years of research type of person -but I do have obsessive tendencies.

Have you ever researched something that made you abandon a story idea?

Not quite abandon. But I may have had to stop writing a story to see if something could be done. Then when I was satisfied it could, I went back to writing. Lucky these days it doesn’t take long to get the answers to some quick questions…the date something was invented for example. I have always found research inspired my work and made it more complete. The good thing about having something not work, is that you start looking for alternative and that can be even better than your first idea.

What kind of research do you need to do for stuff that doesn’t exist? (Like dragons!)

Lizards! Reading about them, observing them. Then also imagining what it would be like to live with them and also what their environmental function would be. I like using my imagination so that’s kind of liberating from having to research. However, I have to say the imagination is fuelled by everything, observation and research.

Thanks Donna!


Donna is an Australian writer of fantasy, science fiction, horror, paranormal romance and romance. As well as over 20 short stories published in various genres, she had a small press publishing house, been an editor, slush reader and science fiction convention runner. She works for the Australian Government undertaking audits of other government departments and their programs. She lives in South Canberra with her partner Matthew Farrer (also a writer) . Since moving to the new house, which overlooks the Brindabella Mountains, both Donna and Matthew are amazed at how the mountains change with the light, the clouds and the weather.

In addition to Dragonwine, Donna has another series going: the Love and Space Pirates series, a young adult/new adult space adventure/romance. The sequel to Rayessa and the Space Pirates, Rae and Essa’s Space Adventures was out in May 2015. Another book is in planning.

Shatterwing is currently FREE in e-book for a short time. As part of spreading the word about Shatterwing, Donna is doing a blog tour and offering a give away of a hard copy of Shatterwing. Winners will be drawn from people who comment during Donna’s blog tour. So please leave a comment to be in it to win!

Conflux approacheth


Conflux 11 is almost upon us! I’m especially excited about it this year, as I’ve been part of the organising committee and had particular responsibility for pulling the program together. There are still a few bits and bobs to sort out, but we are almost there.

Unfortunately I’ll be travelling for work on the Friday and Saturday, so despite it having completely taken over my spare time in the last few weeks I’ll miss those days. But I will be at the banquet on Saturday night, and there all day Sunday and Monday. Here are  the panels you’ll be able to find me on:

2.30pm Sunday – I felt that – vivid prose, with Shauna O’Meara, DL Richardson and Alan Baxter.

4.30pm Sunday – Messing with mythology, with Amanda Pillar, Rob Porteous, Jane Virgo and Alis Franklin

10am Monday – Food in fiction, with Alis Franklin, Gillian Polack and Garry Dalrymple

4.30pm Monday – Fairy tales: princess complex, with Val Toh and KT Taylor


On Sunday at 5.30pm, the CSFG will be launching their latest anthology, The Never Never Land, containing my latest story “Adventure Socks”!  Hope to see you there!

The Never Never Land
The Never Never Land

Paying for our passion – writing v. sleep

If you haven’t checked out the excellent Paying For Our Passion series of guest author blogs David McDonald is doing over at Ebon Shores, I highly recommend it. Mostly because of the insight it provides into how different writers make this writing thing work, but also because (full disclosure) my guest blog went up yesterday.

Here’s what David has to say about his inspiration for the series:

Juggling your creative time with a full time job can be draining at the best of times, how much more so when you feel like the time put into writing is being wasted because it isn’t immediately a huge success? And, what about people who have to juggle being a parent or a full time carer as well? People with a chronic illness? How do they cope?

Because this is a personal issue, we often keep it to ourselves. Worse, sometimes we don’t talk about it because we think everyone else is living the rockstar writer lifestyle and we are the only ones struggling to find that balance–and we don’t want to look like a failure. I thought this was a subject worth exploring, and hopefully seeing how others deal with these challenges might a) help new writers realise they aren’t alone b) give us all ideas that might help.

So far, David has had guest posts from a range of Australian authors and editors, and has even started profiling some New Zealand authors after a recent trip there. I highly recommend the post from writer and poet Maureen Flynn as one that’s particularly moving.

So, what I have I sacrificed in the pursuit of literary glory? Well, the hint is in the title of this post. It’s fair to say my creative career can be characterised as a constant battle to balance the conflicting needs for sleep and writing time. Go read the article, and check out some of the others!

Vale Tanith Lee

Such tragic news – updates on what I did last weekend will have to wait. News stories state she died in her sleep on Sunday after a long illness. She was 67.

I think Tanith Lee may have been the first “adult” author I read. I remember surreptitiously picking up a copy of Red As Blood, Or Tales From The Sisters Grimmer that was lying next to the spare bed in my mother’s house, and sneakily (because I wasn’t sure if I was allowed) reading all those dark, fantastical, twisted fairy tales, one by one. I vividly remember reading the first story, Paid Piper, and being both puzzled and fascinated by the familiar-but-different tale. In fact, I can remember my initial reaction to almost each and every tale from that small volume.

Michael Whelan's cover art for the Daw edition of Red As Blood
Michael Whelan’s cover art for the Daw edition of Red As Blood

(And how about that cover art by Michael Whelan? He managed to make Snow White look both sultry and horrific. Eleven-or-twelve year old me was terrified by that sensual image – but I kept going back and sneak-reading the next story.)

I’ve written previously about books that have helped formed the landscape of my imagination in some of my previous “reading for writing” posts. Well, this book is the bedrock.

It’s by no means the only one of hers I’ve loved. If you want some recommendations, Silver Metal Lover is rightfully iconic, and her Tales From The Flat Earth series showcases just exactly what wonderfully Byzantine, mythic story-telling she was capable of. The other stand-out, for me, is Drinking Sapphire Wine/Don’t Bite the Sun, which, like Silver Metal Lover is sci-fi rather than fantasy – but fantastical, strange and darkly beautiful science fiction. And, of course, her short stories, which I first tasted in Red As Blood. They are legion in number, scattered from here to the ends of the Earth; all filled with the arcane and evocative imagery she was famous for and threaded through with a rich vein of eroticism.

Silver Metal Lover, cover of the 2001 Voyager edition by Kinuko Y Craft
Silver Metal Lover, cover of the 2001 Voyager edition by Kinuko Y Craft

The news articles I have read about her death say she struggled to get her work published in recent years, which is a crying shame. This woman was an artist, and her incredible work has played no small part in shaping my own muse. When I write, if I get the slightest twinge of what I feel when I read her, I know I’m on the right track. I can only hope that following her passing, some of her unseen stories will be published in tribute to the body of work she produced during her lifetime.

Vale, Tanith Lee. And thank you, thank you, thank you.

Tanith Lee 19 September 1947 – 24 May 2015