Wednesday, January 20, 2010


This afternoon I have been doing a little research on Royal Navy (RN) ships. Specifically I have been looking at information on minesweepers. The first half (or so) of my current work in progress is set during WWII. Most of the novel takes place in Russia and other chunks of what was the USSR.

One of my characters comes to know Russia and Russians by serving on a RN vessel operating out of Murmansk and Archangel. Interestingly a number of RN ships particularly minesweepers spent months at a time operating from Russia, often returning to the northern ports over several years.

Now before anyone leaps to the conclusion that I am trying to recreate something like Monsarrat's The Cruel Sea, I most emphatically am not. I like to write from differing points of view. In Veiled in Shadows (hopefully creeping closer to publication) for example I look at the events in Germany and Western Europe through the 30’s and 40’s from viewpoints as different as those of an SS officer and a Holocaust survivor. So my RN officer (his name is Ronnie by the way) is planted in the Soviet Union to give an outsider’s viewpoint.

Most of the research I am doing now will never directly appear in the novel. However, it is important to me to know as much as I can about a character. In fact, it seems I have to become intimate with them before they speak their stories to me. So I know quite a lot about Ronnie’s background. He is from a well to do family with a loving sister, a socialite mother and a distant father. Like a many young men in the RN during the war he has been thrust in over his head. He is in his early twenties but he has been given a command (albeit a small one) largely on the basis of a yacht-masters certificate he obtained before the war. This actually happened to quite a number of young RN Volunteer Reserve officers during the war.

Today in my imagination Ronnie has been guiding me through some of the material available through the wonders of the internet. We have been looking at the vessels of different classes such as Halcyon Class and Flower Class (aren’t they amazing names).
HMS Britomart a Halcyon Class minesweeper. Photos for this post are from Wikimedia Commons.

Then quite by chance (or perhaps Ronnie was nudging me) I found the HMAS Castlemaine site. Here in Melbourne is one of the few WWII minesweepers that still exist. Now to be sure HMAS Castlemaine is a Bathurst Class and so different to the vessels Ronnie would have served on, but she is similar enough to allow a far more accurate feel than any number of photos or plans could ever give.

HMAS Castlemaine a Bathurst Class corvette

As an aside for those of you who don't know HMS stands for Her (or His during WWII) Majesty's Ship while HMAS stands for Her Majesty's Australian Ship.

So if you ever read about Ronnie meeting Valentina at a dance in Archangel and if Ron has a bruise on his brow, you might wonder why? If he does it will be because he showed me on the Castlemaine how he cracked his head by not ducking as he left his cabin.

Can anyone guess where I might be going next weekend?


Southpaw said...

Well, I don't know where you are going next weekend, but you were sure busy this weekend. Research CAN be fun.

Dee Yoder said...

I'm glad you stopped by my blog (My Heart's Dee-Light) because your blog is a great find! I'm adding you to my blog roll so I can keep up with your writing adventures, too. Your description of "creeping closer to publication" made me smile--it SO describes the process. Thanks again for stopping by my blog and leaving your comments. I appreciate your kind encouragement!

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

Research IS fun. Are you going to enter the Abna? I hope you do.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I completely understand where you are because I was there not too long ago. Same period, but in England. You're navy and I'm air force. Research is fascinating.

Al said...

Hi Holly,
I seem to get so bust these days I don't have any time for writing. I love research of almost any kind (maybe not statistical reporting for work).

Hi Dee,
Thank you for turning up here, especially if you are going to say such nice things about my blog :)
You are most welcome and I'll be back.

Hi Christy,
Research is mostly fun (except perhaps with the caveat I made above). I have only just had a look at the ABNA. it looks very interesting and tempting, but it looks like I'd have to pretty much put my self pub efforts on hold until June... Not 100% sure I want to do that.

Hi Elspeth,
Sounds like we have very similar interests in terms of what we like to write/research. This navy stuff is about part of the second novel. I did a heap of research about RAF and Luftwaffe for the first manuscript.

Lisa said...

My middle kid is taking a research methods class this year. I'm actually jealous; I might even volunteer to do his homework for him. Maybe I should just pretend like I'm going to write a novel and have an excuse to research something!

Jenners said...

I always think it is so interesting to hear about writer's doing research for books. I think in that sense, I would be a failure as a writer as I'm lazy. : )

Al said...

Hi Lisa,
Who needs an excuse, research anyway!

Hi Jenners,
I find the lengths some writers go to amazing. Hey, when it comes to a lot of things I'm lazy too. Mowing the back lawn, I'm sure that can wait until next week.