Sunday, March 04, 2007

Research 101

Happy Sunday to you my little darlings

It's very soggy, chilled and grey here in London. I wish Spring would just hurry up and sprung already.

As ever, thanks for all your comments, particularly about my new series Fashionistas. I can't wait for you to read the first book when it comes out in June. Or is it July? I never can remember! And thanks for all your other comments, though I have to remind you that leaving a comment here or at MySpace is the best way to contact me. If you do manage to dig out my email addy, I send back a pre-written email, which is a bit of a FAQ and also a reminder that this blog or MySpace are the official ways to contact me. While I'm on a reminding tip, there are a list of tags on this blog that will direct you to previous posts on writing tips, why there will never be a sequel to Diary Of A Crush and all sorts of other exciting topics. And links to all my interviews on the interpipe.

So at the moment I'm hard at work on the third book in the Fashionstas series, Irina, all about a surly Russian model, which is proving a great way to channel my aggression as I stick to my 2500 daily word quota.

It occurs to me that I haven't talked about the writing process for ages so I thought I'd do a post about research and how important it is to a writer. Being neither Russian or a model (and in this case, never having visited Japan which takes up a significant few chapters), to write this book and make it convincing meant that I had to do a lot of research. In an ideal world, I'd make enough money and have such great connections that I could just jump on a plane to Moscow or Tokyo or call Kate Moss for a little chat, but I don't so here are the less glam tricks of my trade.


I'm really lucky that I have a lot of contacts in the fashion industry so I've been going out for coffee with people who know more about this stuff than I do. (A little tip, I bought this little gizmo that I stick into my iPod, which turns it into a voice recorder.) My good friend Jill Wanless gave me loads of great stuff about modelling and what happens behind the scenes on fashion shoots. I was shocked that all the dramatic scenes I came up with weren't half as outlandish as some of the things that actually go on. I'm also incredibly lucky to know Iain R Webb, a really influentilal fashion writer and living legend. Iain actually worked for Russian Vogue and has visited Moscow so could give me a first hand account that I just couldn't get from my Rough Guide To Moscow. It's also been really helpful to be able to phone Jill up and ask inane questions like, "Is there anything that models usually take to go-sees?" Or "Could a size 10 girl realistically be a successful model?" I have to say that all my years of workong on fashion magazines and being bored stupid at photo shoots were also invaluable as I could use tons of things that actually happened that I've been saving up for ages.


I love the internet. You're all too young to remember life before it but it involved going to libraries and wading through card indexes or using cuttings agencies and still not finding what you were looking for. Google is a writer's best friend. Thanks to Google I could find out the time difference between here and Russia and how long the flight takes. Where the Prada in Moscow is and what does the street look like? Even what MacDonalds tastes like in Tokyo! I have to confess I get a bit eye-rolly when I get emails and messages, usually on book reports, asking me tons of questions and usually ending with the words, "I couldn't find anything about you on the internet!" In a fraction of the time, they could have put "sarra manning" in a google search and found out everything they neded to know, which is what I tell them to do when I reply!

My favourite two research webby tools are Wikipedia, which pretty much has the facts on anything and everything. Someone's even Wiki-ed me! My other must-have is the bookmark site delicious. When I find a site or an online article (even a cookie recipe) that I know I'll need at a later date, I just click on the button I've installed on my toolbar and bookmark the site, but I can also organise all my bookmarks into tags like 'Russia' or 'Fashionistas'.


I think peple can be really up themselves about research. It can be fun too! Fr'instance I got to re-watch Lost In Translation to actually see what Tokyo was like and watched the special 'making of' feature on the DVD too. Hey, it gave me lots of colour that I could put into the book as well so who's to say that it's not proper research? I also watched a way dark film called Lilya 4 ever, which was a great insight into the seedy side of post-Soviet Russia. What's weird is that all of a sudden everything you watch is relevant. Like, this week's episode of UK teen drama Skins saw them going off on a school visit to Russia, while there's that really annoying Russian girl on the new series of ANTM! When I was writing the second book, Hadley, about a former child star turned partying club kid, there were bits of gossip I read on celeb blogs that went straight into the book, including the fantastic quote, "Urgh, don't talk to me like I'm a normal person!" I guess Hadley is based on a composite of maybe three or four different celebrities and the crazy shit that they got up to while I was working on the book was absolute writer's gold.

Something else I've always done is have a big stack of magazine articles in a folder - for the last 18 months that I've been writing Fashionstas, I've kept every interview I've found with a model, or a feature on the fashion industry, or the New York club scene or 'internet It girl' Cory Kennedy. Though I've stopped reading pieces on the size zero debate because, hello, so over it.


I've also been listening to The Research a lot! But I think the two things may be unconnected.

Love Sarra x

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