I This blog will give a feel for the researching and writing process that I have been through for Book IV – including finding sources, contacting interviewees, collecting facts and opinions, sorting themes, scheduling chapter breaks, and starting to write.
The book started out as a standard biography, so I started by setting up some meetings with ‘the subject’, initially covering the early days and exploring both upbringing and family background – the traditional starting point for a biog. But it soon became obvious that the manuscript was not going to be researched in chronological order, nor in fact would it be written in the order of the eventual chapters. No surprise here, as all the other books had been written in a random order as I covered topics that matched sources and interviews as they popped up, which tended to be pretty randomly.
These first interviews with the subject of the book took pace in August 2018. One of the first decisions I made was that there were what I grandly called ‘areas to investigate’, and being an inveterate list maker, I did just that. This then morphed into a list of twelve ‘tensions and conflicts’ that I had identified in the subject. Just as an example, the first item on that list was:
He had a father who did not encourage him as a runner and wanted him to get into farming in the valley.
It was time to get networking – I decided that I needed to try to speak to as varied a selection of people that have shared aspects of his life, but also that I should get a better understanding of the changing Lake District that he has lived in all his life. This latter aspect entailed collecting and reviewing background material, books, press cuttings and previous writings of my own. This produced over a dozen books about the Lake District and its history, which mostly I bought second-hand online, and eagerly devoured as part of the research process.
Google searches sometimes bring up surprising answers, and even some decidedly left field info. One surprise, that turned out to be quite useful, was turning up a blog post from a Dane living in Ireland who analysed the training of several top fell runners, including my subject.
One important decision that I made fairy early on was that the book treatment would be thematic rather than chronological, to avoid being a listing of races and times. These race details would be included, and commented on, but the race highlights and his achievements would be interspersed by sub-sections dealing with: life choices, physical ability, training, mental aspects, injuries/setbacks, and relationships.
By September 2018 I had the initial chapter structure. It allowed the racing career chapters to be interspersed with the topic chapters listed in the paragraph above. I soon made a spreadsheet for the chapters and started accumulating word counts as I wrote. For me this is an important progress marker, and I am afraid to say that I became obsessed with wordage. I just can’t stop myself.
I soon started having success with contacting people to be interviewed for the book and got three more in the bag that month. I always use a pocket digital recorder for these meetings and then spend ages transcribing the discussions when I get home. But, as I have said before [See: Telling stories and Four interviews], I do find these interviews a most fascinating part of the process of researching a non-fiction book. The interviews produce masses of material, often way too much to be used in the manuscript. Two of these early interviews resulted in me having enough surplus material for a long blog (The work of the Friends of the Lake District) and an article in Fellrunner magazine (Short piece on professional fell running).
Next reveal: should be a title and cover reveal, and possibly a short piece from the preface on why this book and this subject.
The second part of my profile of Colin Donnelly appeared in the Summer/Autumn issue of The Fellrunner [with the first part in the Spring issue]. I would normally make available a downloadable PDF of the article, as is the author’s right. However, this time I have gone back to my original submission and this is available to read [as a PDF]. This is because there were a couple of issues with the production. Firstly, the new design of the magazine, whilst looking great to look at, is actually hard to read in parts. Secondly, I was not happy* with the way the material appeared after it had been chopped about when making it into the two parts. I fully understand it to be editorial perogative, but in doing so many parts were moved around and merged, which resulted in some bits being left out and some not making sense as the quotes were juxtaposed badly.
* I accept the Editor’s explanation of how this happened, and have happily submitted another piece for publication in the next issue, which is being put together right now.
NB: for another piece on Colin Donnelly’s long-running career, and comment on others with similar longevity, see: Long-running running champs.