A few weeks ago, I revealed my cunning plan to take a “writer’s retreat” this summer (already compiling list of things to take: chargers, chocolate biscuits, etc.). One of the writing-friendly features of the place to which I am retreating is that it has no telephone (and I am far too stingy to pay foreign roaming charges on my mobile) and no Internet – so there will be far fewer distractions than at home. After all, we’ve all done the “I’ll start writing just as soon as I’ve sent these texts, uploaded that picture to Facebook, checked Twitter and watched some dancing cows on Youtube” distraction routine.
But of course, particularly when writing historical fiction, you do “need” (or, at least, value) access to the Internet. When I say I won’t have any access, I mean easy access. Switzerland is very wifi-ed, so most shopping centres, restaurants and public buildings have it – and indeed I can walk ten minutes from the “retreat” and find free wifi at the local tourist office. But it means I will have to be organised – none of this “I’ll just check that quickly” stuff. I’ll have to write lists of things to check later, and leave red asterisks in the text to mark uncertainties. So I am hoping that I can do as much of the heavy research as possible before I go – the things I know I am going to have to look up (arson terminology, fire assurance companies, gentlemen’s clubs in London in 1825 – just giving you a flavour…). But it’s the unknown unknowns that will trip me up – the things I don’t yet know that I don’t know. On the other hand, that’s one of the pleasures of writing – when you find your characters taking you by the hand and leading you off into areas you had never imagined.