R & D in Writing: What it takes to put science and technology in paranormal fiction
Seventeen the series falls under the wide umbrella of paranormal fiction. It can further be categorized as supernatural thriller, action-adventure, or urban fantasy. As such, these novels are full of action scenes involving unarmed and armed combat, a variety of bladed and projectile weapons, multiple worldwide locations, and some damn right scary bad guys with crazy ideas cooked up, sometimes literally, in a lab.
One of biggest compliments I’ve been paid about my writing has been the ease with which science and technology slips into the story, almost unnoticed. This doesn’t happen accidentally. It is very much the result of a rigorous exercise involving me staring at all the research I’ve done on a topic and finding the shortest and easiest way to incorporate it into the plot without making my editors’ and beta readers’ eyes glaze over.
Let me give you a few examples.
1. In Soul Meaning (Seventeen Book 1), Lucas Soul, the main protagonist, uses a daisho as his blades. A daisho is a Japanese weapon consisting of a long sword, the katana, and a short sword, the wakizashi. In combination, they are used in a style of swordsmanship known as the ‘Two Heavens as One’ or ‘Two Swords as One’ fighting style.
Why did I pick swords for the immortals to fight with? Because immortals have been around for millennia and were using bladed weapons for much, much longer than projectile weapons, i.e. guns.
Why did I pick these particular swords for Lucas Soul? Because I absolutely adore Japanese manga and anime, particularly Tite Kubo’s Bleach, where there are many, many bladed weapons, and because I wanted Lucas to have trained with the best samurai who ever lived.
So I started my research by looking up the world’s best samurai from actual history. And I came across an Edo period ronin by the name of Miyamoto Musashi, who wrote a book on the art of war called ‘The Book of Five Rings’ and who created the Hyoho Niten Ichi-ryu, the ‘Two Heavens as One’ or ‘Two Swords as One’ fighting style. My research not only incorporated reading up on Musashi, who had a most fascinating life and remains recognised to this day as one of the world’s best swordsmen, but also looking at images and videos of the two sword fighting style itself.
I then worked Musashi into Lucas’s past and had the great samurai gift the immortal with a katana engraved with the latter’s birthmark. When you come to this part of the story, I explain it in as matter of fact terms as I have written about it here.
2. In one scene in the book, I have Lucas open a safe using a computer. In another crucial scene, he breaks through a sealed, high-containment stainless steel door thousands of feet below ground using a digital cell phone. The latter scene was one of Kriss Morton’s favourite because of the simplicity of the explanation. There were several hours of research on digital communications systems in modern mines and overriding coded security algorithms involved in writing those two paragraphs.
3. A large part of the Soul Meaning plotline revolves around molecular genetics and biotechnology, two subjects that I loved when I studying Biology A level and medicine. As such, I had to work these elements slowly and organically into the story, while the enemy’s plans were gradually uncovered. There was a particularly charged scene where Lucas and Anna, his love interest, had to decode a journal left to Anna by a scientist. In order to write confidently about cryptography, I first had to learn the basics of encryption and decryption. Cue lots of articles on the history and development of this mode of secret communication, with a particular emphasis on the ciphers that came about during the Second World War. I also had to find a way of incorporating genetics into the codes and this involved a revision of the molecular structure of DNA and its replication. Two days of research were thus compressed into two pages involved an animated dialogue between Lucas and Anna in Chapter Fourteen.
4. One of my favourite scenes in King’s Crusade (Seventeen Book 2) is Chapter Two, when you meet the modern day Alexa King, a very much grown up protagonist compared to the younger version you experience in the prologue. Because Alexa is the definition of the perfect immortal warrior, this second introduction had to be a spectacular one and had to set the tone of what this character was all about: focused, efficient, deadly, and with a 100% mission success rate. The image of her jumping off a cliff and skydiving toward a plane came to me incredibly easily. Writing the scene was anything but. It necessitated hours of research, from reading up on the exact geography required, including a desert flight path between two airports, to the structural and mechanical details of the type of plane I could use, to how I would get her from the cliff to the plane. One of my work colleagues happens to be married to a serving soldier (who is also an engineer) and he helped me figure out the height, velocity, angles, and techniques I could use to achieve this goal. Their cats were particularly fascinated by the base jumping videos we watched over pizza.
5. In Greene’s Calling (Seventeen Book 3), I ended up having to change the enemy’s plans because of the very research I did to formulate a feasible plot for the storyline. This involved travelling to the British Geological Survey in Keyworth, Nottingham, to talk to an expert on a complex subject matter. I had to scrap my original grandiose idea as it wasn’t scientifically viable, with too many unknown variables involved. The alternative plan I came up was hypothetically possible.
There is a lot more than goes into writing novels such as the Seventeen series than meets the eye. I know many of my friends and colleagues are constantly surprised by the amount of work involved and find it hard to believe that I have hardly been to any of the locations depicted in the books. In a sense, that’s another great compliment for me as a writer. Because it means I’ve made the complex stuff easy to read.
For those of you who have read the books and wish to find out more about my writing process, do check out the Bonus section of my website.
A.D. Starrling was born on the small island nation of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean and came to the UK at the age of twenty to study medicine. After five years of hard graft earning her MD and another five years working all of God’s hours as a Pediatrician, she decided it was time for a change and returned to her first love, writing.
Released in July 2012, Soul Meaning is her debut novel and the first in the award-winning supernatural thriller series SEVENTEEN. The second novel in the series, King’s Crusade, was released in May 2013. The third novel, Greene’s Calling, was published June 2014.
She lives in Warwickshire in the West Midlands, where she is busy writing the next installment in the series. She still practices medicine. AD Starrling is her pen name.
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