Sunday, August 08, 2010

Guest Blog Post: Dolores Gordon-Smith, A HUNDRED THOUSAND DRAGONS

There's a short note about Dolores Gordon-Smith's fourth book, A Hundred Thousand Dragons, at the Killer Books web site this month (provided by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association). And our review of this delightful British historical mystery, in the footsteps of Lord Peter Wimsey (and also, in this particular case, with a touch of Elizabeth Peterson), is here.

And now, the author joins us to share her pathway into research for the book. Welcome, Dolores!

How do you know this stuff?
from Dolores Gordon-Smith

            “How on earth,” said my sister Barbara, after reading A Hundred Thousand Dragons “do you know all this stuff?”  I could see her point of view.  A Hundred Thousand Dragons starts off in the London of the 1920’s, moves to Sussex, has a flashback to the war in Arabia in 1915 (with a visit to Petra thrown in) and ends up in a lost Nabatean city in the 20’s.  Along the way there’s various cars, aeroplanes, clothes – oh, and a coded message that has to be worked out too.  And Barbara’s my older sister and knows – because of the chronological accident of not having been born until way after the 20’s – that I can’t remember any of it.  Hmm.

            The quick answer is, of course, “research” but that has to be unpicked before it’s any use.  The reassuring thing, to anyone thinking about writing a historical, or, indeed, any sort of book (because all books have “stuff” in them) is that you don’t do it all at once.

            I started with the both the story and my own interests. I’ve always been fascinated by early aviation (my Dad was a pilot in the Second World War) and the history of flight. A big part of why I set the books in the 1920’s is so Jack, my hero, can have been a pilot in the First World War.  (There’s a sort of fascinated horror about First World War flying; it’s so scary but really exciting and the pilots were young enough to feel both.)

            I’d mentioned Jack’s war in the three previous books but wanted to make it more central to this story.  Where’s an exciting place to fly?  Arabia?  Oh yes, because I’m also interested in archaeology and that ties in.  You can see links forming, can’t you?  And you can’t think of Arabian archaeology without thinking of Petra, the granddaddy of all “lost cities”.  At this point I read TE Lawrence’s (“Lawrence of Arabia”)  Seven Pillars of Wisdom.  I read lots, but perhaps the most useful book was by the journalist Lowell Thomas, With Lawrence In Arabia.  Thomas, a contemporary of Lawrence, has brilliant descriptions of the desert war and – bingo! – Petra.

            With the main planks of the story in place, I started to fill in the details.  Cars are important in the story.  I like old cars anyway, and a trip to the Beaulieu Car Museum and their fantastic library paid rich dividends.  When Jack is investigating the burnt-out Rolls-Royce he asks who, in the neighbourhood, owned a Rolls.  In the list of names is a “Major Warren of Handcross”.  He’s a real person, culled from Beaulieu’s records.  I couldn’t resist putting him in!

            Shipping times from London to the East were the result of an afternoon spent poring over microfilms of old newspapers in Manchester library and Jack’s researches more or less mirror my frustrations.  And codes?  Well, I didn’t know I was interested in codes before I started, but I soon got interested in codes.  But, perhaps, one of my favourite pieces of research was morning coffee in the Savoy and afternoon tea in Claridges Hotel.  I know, I know.  Research is tough at times!

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