You’ve done in-depth research for many writing projects. What’s been one of your most exciting research discoveries?
That is such a difficult question to answer – asking for a top 10 would be easier! With almost 30 years of research under my belt as a journalist and author there are quite a few. One favourite moment involved bringing together the iconic photographers Max Dupain and Olive Cotton in a way that had never been done before. Another arrived with the ‘lightbulb’ moment of realisation that the architect Harry Seidler must have been colour-blind.
What do you find most enjoyable about the process of researching?
Everything. It is like being a private detective – only cooler, in my book. I enjoy the entire process, from formulating the questions that need to be answered, through what can at times feel like endless legwork, right up until the adrenalin rush that hits you when you realise you have struck gold. Do research right and it’s not just exciting but enormous fun. Sometimes I wonder if I’m addicted to it.
How does research for non-fiction differ from researching for fiction writing?
In principle there is no difference at all – to take an extreme example, both non-fiction and fiction writers may be looking to uncover secrets or expose lies. Research is all about venturing into the unknown and developing an understanding of the world you are writing about in a way that means you can make it real for your readers as well. Sci-fi authors often research science. Historical novelists have a grand tradition of delving deeply into the past. The difference really lies in what you decide to do with your research once your sleuthing is complete and your storytelling journey has begun.
Helen O’Neill is an award-winning journalist and author whose books are published in Australia, New Zealand, the USA, and the UK. A former staff journalist on the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian and Vogue Australia, Helen has worked on documentaries that have screened across the world, and has served as a director on the boards of the Australian Society of Authors and Copyright Agency.
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