Guest Post: “How I Do Research” by Miles Cameron

cameronc-authorpicBook four of the Traitor Son series, A Plague of Swords is out this week. Instead of talking to you about the book, I thought I’d discuss how I write, or more particularly, how I do research. To me, research is the very sinew of writing; learning things, and learning skills, is what fires my passion to write and also what allows me to fill pages not just with character, motivation, and plot, but with detail and incident that feel ‘real.’ (Or, gosh, I really hope you think it feels real…)

Research is a lifestyle. When I was an undergraduate (back when dinosaurs walked the earth) my favorite professor referred to reading original medieval manuscripts as the skin you love to touch (N.B. because parchment and vellum are actually sheep and goatskin…) and years later, I see that he was correct about this. I love to look at old documents. I love to stand in medieval castles, on medieval bridges, in a fourteenth century guild hall, in a great cathedral. My vacations are aimed at these places (Medieval cathedrals are not thick on the ground in Canada). In fact, I think it’s possible that my family dread ‘vacations’ more than enjoy them…

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It is not just places or documents, though. There are also ‘things.’ Material culture is important to my writing; I think I learned this from Celia Friedman (C.S. Friedman) who taught me a lot about costuming and a lot more about appreciating how the details of material culture work together to be part of the whole ‘fabric’ of culture; how swords reflect fashion; how hats and shoes reflect technologies and ides and even ideals…

And then there are martial arts. I love to fence; I love to fight in armour (see below). I teach a form of medieval swordsmanship; I learn other forms, and I’m pan-cultural; Italian or Chinese, if it has a sword, it interests me. But learning about martial arts influences what I write; I try to make every ‘fight scene’ a unique experience displaying a different solution to a unique problem.

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But, see… the same is true of cooking, dance, fashion, music… everything that forms a culture. I find it easier to arrive at some understanding by doing; even if my understanding is shallow, at least I’ve shoed a horse or shot a particular bow or danced a particular dance. To me, the most immersive way to experience all this stuff is reenacting it; I’m a passionate historical reenactor.

And finally, but perhaps first and foremost, there’s the form of experience open to everyone; reading. For the last week, apropos of absolutely nothing, I’ve been devouring books on early nineteenth century naval warfare in the Mediterranean; on Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign, and the wars of Greek Independence. I can’t tell you why, or where all that will end up; maybe ina  gaming campaign, and maybe in a fantasy novel. Years ago I acquired a fantastic book by Christopher Duffy called Eagles Over the Alps about Suvarov’s impossible Alpine Campaign of 1798. It became a pivotal scene in A Plague of Swords. See?

It’s a lifestyle.

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Miles Cameron’s A Plague of Swords is published in the UK by Gollancz, and in North America by Orbit Books. The first three novels in the series — The Red KnightThe Dread Wyrm and The Fell Sword — are available from the same publishers. The author also publishes historical fiction as Christian Cameron — his novels include the Tyrant, The Long War, Chivalry series and a number of stand-alone novels. For more on Cameron’s writing and novels, be sure to check out the author’s website, and follow him on Twitter and Goodreads.

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