Saturday 13 December 2014

Blog Tour: Ridley Road by Jo Bloom

Title: Ridley Road
Author: Jo Bloom
Published: 11th December 2014
Publisher: Weidenfield and Nicolson

Today I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for Ridley Road by Jo Bloom with a Guest Post on her Research Process for the book.

Jo's Research Process

Before I decided to write Ridley Road, it’s fair to say that I was neither drawn to writing anything set in the past, nor was I an avid reader of historical fiction. But when I overheard a conversation about the 62 Group, the Jewish organisation which was formed in 1962 to confront a resurgence of fascism in London, I felt a tingle. This was a relatively unknown story I knew I had to tell; how less than twenty years after WW2, British fascism was rearing up again. But now it was opposed by members of the 62 Group who took matters into their own hands and spent the sixties, and beyond, fighting fascism on the streets.  
I knew I wanted to set a love story, starring a hairdresser in Soho, against this political backdrop. But how could I create an authentic drama when I hadn’t lived through that period? Where should I start? 
Because I made a fair few mistakes which sucked up a lot of time, I thought it might be useful to share some of my tips for research.  
1. The right sort of detail
Several text books helped me get acquainted with the period I was writing about. But while I gained a good sense of the era, I began to feel bogged down in too much dry information, and I realised that it was more important to create the setting with a light touch. This meant choosing the sort of details which conveyed the history authentically but stylishly. For example, the moment I discovered that a hairdressing salon in 1962 might use beer as a setting lotion, I knew it would find its way into Ridley Road. Who would forget that sort of fact? And I found reading diaries, memoirs and newspaper clippings from the era really helpful for these ‘small’ but memorable details. 
2. Visual material
Visiting photographic archives and watching footage or films from the late fifties/early sixties was really helpful because details tend to stick when I can visualise them. I found out all sorts of things, from how houses were furnished to the look and feel of street scenes and coffee bars. On several occasions seeing something in a photo sparked off more plot ideas.  
3. The internet
What’s not to love about the internet? I’m amazed how much good material there is online. By honing my searches (using accurate keywords etc) I found some brilliant material – in seconds! Obviously, there were times when I had to sift through a lot of irrelevant stuff to find what I needed, but when I could do it from home, in my pyjamas, even on a lap top in bed, it mattered less. Also, there’s a tendency for online material to lead you to other information. For example, if you read a Wiki entry, you can usually click on a list of citations at the bottom and be taken to other internet pages, some of which may be relevant to your search.    
4. Talk to people - be curious!
I interviewed several people for Ridley Road. I had tea with a well known anti-fascist in Hackney, visited a journalist at the BBC, and met up frequently with a close family friend who is also a journalist/researcher and had written some of the scant, available information on the 62 Group. I also interviewed hairdressers, went on walking tours around the East End with my parents (it was their stomping ground) and paid for a private walking tour around ‘Sixties Soho’. And if I found a website which dealt with an area that I wanted help with – e.g. music/fashion – but it didn’t carry the information I needed, I thought nothing of firing over an email to the editor. I found there was a lot of good faith around writing a book. Everyone was very keen to help. Talking to people and hearing their stories was great fun and invaluable. 
5. Newspaper clippings
Archived newspapers provided me with some of Ridley Road’s key plot points. In fact, one online archive provided me with 90 percent of the information about Colin Jordan, the neo-Nazi who features in the book. His activities, especially his court appearances, were regularly reported on and I found a staggering amount of material in just half a dozen clippings. And even if you don’t specifically find what you want, clippings throw up lots of telling details. Hackney Archives held old local newspapers on microfilm and both the adverts and general news items were really fun to go through.
6. Too much/too little
It’s important to recognise when you’ve done enough research and need to get writing. Some writers only start when every detail has been nailed. Others don’t need a lot, muddle through and add detail in later. I think I probably sit somewhere in the middle. What I did learn, over the course of many drafts, is that the story I started out with isn’t the story that I ended up with – so some of the research I did at the beginning wasn’t that useful. And I’ve also realised that I might have insisted I needed to do research, when I really should have just got on with the writing. Now I’m onto book 2, I’m trying to remember that and not procrastinate too much…
A big thank you to Jo for stopping by! Brilliant piece on her research process!

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