On Research and the Secret History of Concrete

Paved Roman Road

Doing research for a novel is weird. It feels a bit like cheating, seeing as it’s a perfectly legitimate way to not be actually writing your book.

Here’s an example. I’m writing a book at the moment – a shock, I know – set in Victorian England. As such, in the name of research, every time I mention anything at all I have to go and type it into google to see if it even existed at the time.

It’s amazingly enlightening to find out just how much you don’t know about the things that are around us every day. The history of things as simple as concrete, for instance. I actually had to sit down and research when we started using the stuff, only to find that it was basically invented during ancient Rome and then forgotten about for something like one thousand years.

A thousand years! It gets you thinking about the secret history of other mundane nonsense, reminds you that there are stories everywhere if you care to look for them.

Sometimes, when I’m subjecting a group of people to a long and pretentious conversation about the art of book-writery, I’ll get asked “where do you get your ideas from?”

Things like this, that’s where.


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