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Road Trip to Research.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle recognised the value of research trips when he was choosing locations for his fictional novels. He walked the ancient paths of Dartmoor to find the ideal settings for his acclaimed novel, ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles.’ The book is set on Dartmoor: for example, Fox Tor Mires is supposed to be the Great Grimpen Mire in the novel.

How would he know what it really feels like to be in a bog, or the sinister, foggy places of a moor if he’d never been there? What are the sounds, the smells, the feelings to stand on a high tor? How does it feel when the sun or rain strikes you at different times of the day as you walk the paths, or when you accidentally tread on what looks like solid ground to find it is actually bog, waiting to suck any unwary traveller into a watery grave? He had to go there to experience the landscape before he could create his locations.

My research road trip was not quite so adventurous, but still necessary. As we sped along the state highways towards Hamilton I was gripped with the fear that I was an idiot. Isn’t this what Google Earth is for? – to experience places I’ve never been to.

Once I was standing on a hill overlooking Aotea harbour or slogging up a huge sand dune in Kawhia I knew that the real experience is far better than anything the internet can provide. I knew exactly what my characters are going to feel as they take one stride forward and slip half a stride back trying to crest the mound of iron-sand that is taller than the surrounding macrocarpa trees. I now know where

they’re going to hide when they are in danger of being seen by the baddies. I know where the students congregate on the campus both out doors and in and where the identifying landmarks are.

We might have many sophisticated tools that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lacked but there is still no substitute for actually going to a place and experiencing it for yourself. If the boffins ever design programmes that will give people the all-round experience, travel agents and cruise ships will be out of business – and we will lose the joy of travel and wondering what lies around the next bend.

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