My first career was as a newspaper journalist. It’s a job that takes you into many different worlds – some that you’re happy to enter, some that leave you totally cold/bemused/horrified.
All journalists in the UK are expected to know and understand the workings of local and national government, the courts, the education system, the health system etc, etc. Sometimes, though, the knowledge required for a particular story can be a bit more specialist.
Working on a paper up in the north of England, I once had to stand in for the farming editor and cover a local sheep show. It was… different. I didn’t know that much about sheep beforehand and funnily enough the experience didn’t tempt me into becoming a specialist.
Another time, I was covering the ongoing trial of a man accused of sending a fishing boat to sea in such a terrible state that he was blamed for the subsequent deaths of all those involved. As part of the coverage I had to write an in-depth report that explained aspects of Britain’s trawler industry.
I also spent some time as crime reporter for a daily paper. That certainly exposes you to the darker side of life – and makes me very glad to live in a village in a quiet corner of southern England.
The range of topics you get involved in is one of the things that makes journalism an attractive career. (Believe me, it’s not the pay, the hours or the respect!)
As an author (a job that’s a bit more socially acceptable but otherwise generally similar conditions), I’ve found myself taking all kinds of tangents. My writing has taken me through the deserts of North Africa (Pagan’s Sphinx), kayaking (Findo Gask) and into the life of a young journalist (Thin Ice).
Those are all subjects I can write about from personal experience. Other times though, considerable research is involved. One group of character in The Vault have… well, let’s say ‘dodgy’ backgrounds.
Okay, they’re a group of mercenaries who are ex-Soviet military. Which is where the research started to get interesting. I needed to know various things about members of the Russian Special Force: tattoos, location of their bases and the weapons they might use.
The details mentioned in The Vault are things that most readers will probably skim over without blinking. But there’s always the chance that a reader might know the subject better than me. Which is why the facts need to be, at the very least, plausible for these characters.
Hopefully I’ve got it right. No-one’s picked me up on any mistakes yet. But it was a piece of research that took me into a new world yet again. Spetsnaz killers make strange bedfellows but that’s one of the intriguing things about being a writer; you never know where it might take you – or in whose company.