Finally! I found a use for my degree. Last week, while I struggled to complete the last sea fight of my sequel, I decided that internet research just wasn’t cutting it. I was finding no inspiration and it was just too distracting of a search.
The light bulb went on, and I had a thought. When I was in university, what would I do in this case? Why, head to the university library of course. And that’s just what I did. Of course, I arrived just after a flash flood sent all the librarians in a tizzy, so I didn’t quite find everything I wanted, but I found what I needed.
The simply named “Some Famous Sea Fights” by Green & Frost was an unexpected gem, and then Druett’s “She Captains” was an obvious choice; Antony’s “Like Froth Floating on the Sea: The World of Pirates and Seafarers in Late Imperial South China” was one I definitely wanted, mostly for a bio on the fearsome Zheng Yi Sao of the Red Banner Fleet.
Archaeology is a passion degree. No one with sense goes into it for the money. It’s quite a bit like anything else, really; lots of hard work is the only way to go. But the beauty of this degree, above any other, is that it exposed me to the richest sources of my inspiration.
Through my collections of world folk tales, mythologies, and actual cultural histories, all the tools are at my disposal for recreating my own version of ‘history’, and I become historian of my own world. By knowing the conditions under which certain elements will arise–for example, the environmental factors that can isolate a culture, the struggles and feuds that will erupt between close-knit city-state kingdoms with shared resources, the motivations for empire-building, and what it means to be a hero-king, a villain, or a warrior in the eyes of the people–all of this can be discovered in the historical and archaeological records, and hence manipulated.
Research isn’t just for those non-fiction tomes, and a fiction writer‘s “research” doesn’t have to be limited exclusively to reading contemporary or popular books in one’s chosen genre, which is pretty much the #1 piece of advice I’ve heard given. It’s good advice, but not the only thing that can help. Open your eyes to the dramas, romantic lovers, clever heroes, and military struggles of our ancient past, and you’ll find that a whole new dimension of inspiration has opened its doors.