Let's talk about research. No, I don't mean the comfortable kind of research where you sit with your glasses perched on the tip of your nose and go through sources until, by some crazed and circuitous route, you find yourself reading an essay on Stephen King's Pet Sematary and remember you really only wanted to spend a minute checking how many days were in May.
I'm talking about research in the field. See, the thing about magic is nobody can really say you're doing it wrong. You can look up stuff about demons and rituals and use everything as guidelines rather than rules - who knows about magic? - but if your characters spend ninety per cent of their time in the real world, which is a stern world requiring maps and signposts and some way of paying the rent and the electricity bill... Well, someone will know if you get the real world wrong.
Unfortunately, research in the field is hazardous. I have already recorded in this journal my trip to Salisbury to get a scene right, and how I was rewarded for my dedication by being mistaken for a very young health inspector.
Research in the field often goes wrong. Or maybe it's just me.
Okay, so Nick, the protagonist of The Demon's Lexicon, does a lot of things - puts the sexy in dyslexia, can handle a sword a little - and one of them, since his family is really not well-off and everyone has to pull their weight, is work part-time in a garage. Seemed like a good idea at the beginning. Fit the character. Full steam ahead!
Until I remembered that I knew absolutely nothing about cars.
So one fine day the hardworking men in a garage near Guildford were rather surprised to see me descend upon them. One man rolled himself out from under a car to behold a creature with mismatched eyes, impractical shoes and an alarming smile.
SARAH: *waves notebook* Hello!
THE NOBLE MECHANICS OF GUILDFORD: ... Hi?
SARAH: So how d'you fix a broken car?
NOBLE MECHANICS: What's wrong with the car?
SARAH: Oh, anything you like!
NOBLE MECHANICS: ... Where's your car?
SARAH: I don't have a car. I don't drive.
NOBLE MECHANICS: ...
SARAH (sitting on the ground): Tell me a story about the most broken engine you ever fixed!
I spent several days frequenting that garage, making long notes and doing little drawings. I am pretty awesome at drawing things: I did a very nice picture of a Ford once. Of course, what I was trying to draw was a mechanic called Harry.
One day I was chattering happily about engines when the Gracious Leader of the Noble Mechanics approached me and asked for a word.
SARAH: Absolutely! By the way, which bit is the carburetor?
GRACIOUS LEADER: We don't use carburetors anymore.
SARAH: What! How does the car burr, then? Are we all doomed?
GRACIOUS LEADER: We use fuel injections now. Listen-
SARAH: This seems like sheer madness to me. It sounds like the car's on drugs. Would you trust yourself to a hopped-up car?
GRACIOUS LEADER: Look, the lads and I need to get some work done. We're all very flattered by, uh, your interest and I'm sure that some of the younger boys wouldn't mind having a drink after work and discussing your, ahem, book, but-
SARAH: My ahem book?
GRACIOUS LEADER (kindly): It's okay. We've all worked it out.
SARAH: Why would I pretend that I was writing a - oh my God. Oh my God, you all think I'm some kind of mechanics groupie, don't you.
GRACIOUS LEADER (graciously): There's no shame in it.
I departed. It might be nice to depart places with one's dignity intact, but personally I wouldn't know.
The worst part was that I ended up cutting most of the mechanic stuff because it was all dry and technical and boring. I feel this is Life.
I should tell you where I am. I am at the airport, typing cheerfully as I wait for my flight to London.
Because another step on the road to publication is author photos. Now, I had some done: I always fear that I will look like a deranged wombat in photos, but I was willing to brave this. And they came out not so bad: Slightly Eccentric Wombat in a Nice Dress, thanks to the brilliance of my photographer.
UK PUBLISHER: So... your photos are fine, but we were thinking of doing some slightly different photographs.
SARAH: Is this about the wombat thing?
UK PUBLISHER: Er - no. What wombat thing?
SARAH: Oh never mind, never mind. Absolutely! I would love to.
UK PUBLISHER: That's great! Okay, do you want to meet us in the graveyard?
SARAH: ... Where?
Do not worry, I do not think my publishers are plotting to lure me to a burial ground and kill me. (Livejournal, avenge my death!) They are awesome people! I have absolute faith that they mean me only good, and that they have an excellent plan for my photos and that they will look lovely.
I do have some fears. If I can get myself in trouble sitting in a garage in Guildford, I can only imagine what might happen to me while flitting about a graveyard in London - making, of course, my traditional wombat face. Wish me luck!