Monday, April 23, 2012

Swords, Stays and Sesame Ice Cream

Please join us in welcoming this week's guest, Alison GoodmanAlison's most recent novel is EONA which is the sequel to EON (aka The Two Pearls of Wisdom) and the conclusion of the EON duology. EON won the 2008 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel, and recently it was listed as a 2010 American Library Association Best Young Adult Book, a James Tiptree Jr. Award Honour Book and a C.B.C.A Notable Book.

Alison's first novel was Singing The Dogstar Blues, a science-fiction comedy thriller, which won an Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel, and was listed as a C.B.C..A. Notable Book and an A.L.A. Best Young Adult book of 2004. It has recently been re-jacketed and re-released in Australia. Her second novel, Killing the Rabbit, is a crime/thriller for adults published in the U.S. by Bantam Books and shortlisted for the Davitt Award.

I can now say with authority that a boned short stay – a kind of early 19th century corset – is not very comfortable. Especially when you are dancing a quadrille for thirty minutes with a lot of skipping and twirling and whooping involved. I know this because I have just returned from four days of living in Regency dresses and bonnets and the aforesaid stays, learning how to dance like Jane Austen. That’s me in the photo in full Regency regalia at the Jane Austen Festival Australia. It was all in aid of research for my new historical/adventure/supernatural trilogy set in the early 1800’s, and it is only the start of my sensory research journey.

Whenever I start a new series, I try and recreate – as closely as possible – some of the skills and experiences my characters would have in my novels. I call it experiential research, although a good friend jokingly calls it method writing. I always hit the books and primary resources as well – that is an essential part of research – but to create a full and rich sensory world for my reader, I also try to walk for a while in my main character’s shoes. Literally.

For my fantasy duology, EON and EONA, I learned how to fight with Chinese swords. I wasn’t very good at it, but after taking some lessons I was able to describe how it felt to hit something with a blade at full force, when and where the tendons and muscles of a body were strained during a fight, and how the weight of each sword affected the swings and blocks. All of that information appears in the battle scenes in EON and EONA, bringing the reader closer to the experience of fighting with two long curved swords.

Another part of my experiential research process is to gather as much sensory information as I can from a place that is similar to the world that I am creating in my novels. I haven’t always been able to do it – travel is expensive – but when I can, I jump at the opportunity.

For EON and EONA, I was lucky enough to be able to visit Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. I did the usual research visits to museums and libraries. But I also walked down dark, narrow streets strung with flags and washing, and listened to snatches of conversation. I visited markets and smelled unusual fruits and spices, and touched lengths of smooth silk that slid through my fingers. I tasted delicious doughy buns filled with red bean paste, and ate delicate black sesame ice cream in an old Geisha laneway lit with red lamps. Everything that I experienced got logged in my internal bank of sensory information, and a lot of it made its way into my descriptions of the Imperial City and the villages in EON and EONA.  

Every time I sit down to write, it is one of my aims to take my readers deep into my imaginary world through their five senses. When I read a book, I love to feel like I am walking alongside the main character, living every moment in a place that is bright with sights and sounds, smells and textures and, of course, wonderful tastes. That is what I hope to achieve in my own novels.

For my new series, I am off to England, and on the day this blog is posted, I will be in Mayfair where my main character, Lady Helen, lives in a Georgian townhouse in the heart of fashionable Regency London. In fact, I will be staying at her exact address: 12 Half Moon Street. The townhouse is now part of a hotel, and so I will be able to wake up in a room much like her own, wander the streets where she would have shopped and promenaded, and see some of the sights she would have seen; places like Rotten Row in Hyde Park and Regent Street. Of course, 21st century London is not the same as 19th century London, but there are enough traces of that mad and grand time left to jump-start my imagination.

So when Lady Helen finally makes her debut on to the bookshelves, I invite you to live a while in Regency London. Smell the smoky coal on the air, taste the nutty char of roast chestnuts, and feel the tight hold of your stays as you dance a quadrille opposite a man who may just be a little more demonic than you expected.

Alison lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her husband, Ron, and their Machiavellian Jack Russell Terrier, Xander. She was a D.J. O'Hearn Memorial Fellow at Melbourne University, holds a Master of Arts, and has taught creative writing at postgraduate level. Alison is currently working on a new fiction series, and professionally mentors a small number of writers on their book-length projects.
For news about the Lady Helen series, keep an eye on Alison’s website at, or her Facebook page at

The Firebird paperback edition of the New York Times Bestseller EONA, the sequel to EON, has just been released in the USA. Alison’s award winning first novel, Singing The Dogstar Blues, has also just been reissued with a great new cover and extras including a continuation of Joss and Mav’s adventures in a bonus short story.


Terri-Lynne said...

Now that's what I call research. :) And this shows why Eon and Eona feel so authentic. Finding that balance between borrowing from our world cultures and creating a whole new one isn't easy. I imagine this sort of research goes a long way in helping that.

Very cool. Thanks, Alison!

J.A. Campbell said...

I read Eon and Eona is sitting on my desk in my TBR pile... I was really impressed with how real the world felt. As Terri said... now I know why.

Thank you for sharing part of your process :)


Karin Rita Gastreich said...

Thanks for a fun post, Alison. Your work sounds very interesting, and fun!

I love roasted chestnuts. Could do without the stays and the demonic dance partner, though. ;)

Have a great time in London. I look forward to seeing the new novels.

writerknv said...

Amazing post, Alison! I love the idea of "sensory" research, and I hadn't really thought about actually doing research in that way before, though there are times when I've had an experience that finds its way into the book.

I'm definitely going to think about research differently in the future! Thanks for the great post!

Unknown said...

What a great post! I've always thought research is a fun part of writing, but I can see I'm only scratching the surface of how interesting it can be. I'm intrigued by Alison's research. I think I'll have to add her books to my blog review list.