Getting Locked into Research

Guest post by GB Williams

Getting Locked into Research

My very first idea for Locked Up was always to set it in a prison cell, and the the idea of the rest of the story followed quickly. I sat down poised to write, but that old adage “write what you know” popped into my head.

As a law-abiding female, I’ve never been in a male prison. Not as a visitor, nor a teacher, nor any of the various positions that get held down by civilians. Result? I don’t know prisons.

I do, however, know research.

And I did a lot of it.

One of the things that you need to know about research is – it’s a rabbit hole. Not a normal rabbit hole – it’s like following the White Rabbit into a world of wonder and it can guarantee you will be late. Whatever the subject, there is always more to research than a writer needs, but the writer will tend to follow a lot of unnecessary lines because what you find is usually rather interesting and it can help to enliven a book, it can help you avoid pitholes, but it can also suck away any time you have to write.

The other thing you need to know is what questions do you want to answer. That will allow you to focus your research into the area that’s necessary for the book.

I know some writers do masses of research before they start to write – I’m not that disciplined. My process is to think: what do I know? How do I know that? Let’s check my sources first, and if those sources are questionable get on Google (other search engines are available). My knowledge of what the inside of a prison cell looks like is based on what I’ve seen on TV and in films. So since the book starts in a prison cell, that was the first thing I had to check: what is the size of a prison cell.

Because I find images fascinating, I used a lot of photographs for my research, especially initially. There’s no knowing what a photo will tell a reader. Colour not being the least of those things. A floor plan can be good, but it won’t tell you the colour of the sheets on the bed.

It was a photo that led me to an official website and a list of what personal belongings are allowed in cells. That threw up a few surprises: like that there is a limit on the number of books a prisoner can have in a cell at any one time; I did not know that and it made a difference because Charlie was always meant to be a big reader.

Of course, the internet is not the only source of information. There are also libraries. One book that I found useful, actually lent by a friend rather than borrowed from the library, was A Life Inside: a prisoner’s notebook by Erwin James. Now, I’m not out to make a life of crime look like a good thing; it isn’t. There is no honour amongst thieves. Crime doesn’t really pay. Spending time in jail is punishment – it’s not nice. But sometimes adversity can bring out the best in a person. And for Erwin James it’s brought out an impressive talent for writing. If you are interested in the reality of prison life, this is definitely one to get inside of. It really brings prison life to life for those of us who have never experienced it.

Then there is the talking to people. I don’t know any convicts, but they weren’t the only side of the story. I also had to find out about prison officers. A fair amount of that did come from the internet, but oddly enough, the first draft of Locked Up was edited by someone with prison service experience. Actually that was why my manuscript went to her – not because I chose her, but because the editing house I used matched my needs with her experience. She was brilliant. Not only did she slap me for using comma splices, she pointed out things that I’d mistaken in the procedure, and added information for things that I would never have known about without her advice.

I also tried contacting actual prisons for information. What surprised me, but probably shouldn’t have, was that certain prisons simply wouldn’t help. Clearly they were keen not to let too much detail get out.

When it comes to research I think there are only two rules.

1) You have to do it

2) You have to check it (with two or preferably three sources).

And if the writer it any good, the reader won’t notice the research. So I’m hoping that as you read Locked Up, you don’t notice the research because you’re too busy enjoying the story. There’s only one way to find out of course …

About Locked Up

A prison officer and a convicted killer must work together to solve a brutal murder and expose conspiracy inside a prison.

Ariadne Teddington is surrounded by people who lie but that is to be expected when you work in prison where every man claims to be innocent.

Charlie Bell, an ex Detective, now finds himself in that prison serving time formurder after having taken the law into his own hands.

When a fellow inmate is killed Charlie is asked to investigate the case from theinside. Soon Charlie finds himself working with Ariande but she is a guard, he is an inmate and some lines should never be crossed ...

Can two people on different sides of the law come together to solve the case?

And do the answers lie closer to home than anyone ever imagined?

About GB Williams

After being made redundant in 2012, GB started taking her life-long passion for writing more seriously and looking to sell her work. Specialising in complex, fast-paced crime novels, she started writing the Locked Series in 2014, and has been working to polish and perfect since - not to mention - sell.

GB was shortlisted for the 2014 CWA Margery Allingham Short Story Competition with the story Last Shakes, now available in Last Cut Casebook. She is also a feature writer and comic book reviewer on Crime novels are her stock in trade, but she has had success with short stories in various genres including steampunk, horror, erotica and general fiction. 

With bills to pay, she’s back working as a systems architect by day, a freelance fiction editor and keen writer of an evening and weekend. GB really needs to learn to sleep.

Originally from Kent, GB moved to South Wales as a supposed first step on a year around the world.  Then she met a guy.  Kept the guy, kissed the travel goodbye. Knowing that the best way to travel is by book anyway, she has always read, always written. GB now has two grown-up children, the world’s most imperious cat, a house full of books and a hard drive full of manuscripts (though some will never be allowed out of a locked basement).

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