Stuff is full of thin spaces. When Max Plank and Niels Bohr got their fingers mucky with all the stuff which would become quantum physics, they had to somehow put their findings into words, and at a time when Chat GPT didn’t exist and couldn’t do it badly for you.
‘Stuff is really thin and slippy when you look at it really up close,’ is the gist of what I can remember of what they said. You can look it up for the actual data, but it’s all a round-about way of saying the same thing. Stuff gets weird. It’s just a question of how you frame what you are looking for.
When I write a book I have to do research. I have tried escaping it, believe me, but even in writing fiction you have to pick up the odd map or spool through endless Google images of 1980s Mercedes’ in order to find just what you were looking for. In a recent case for me, it ended up being a 1980 Mercedes Benz, the 280 SE in a willing shade of tan-green. Superb.
But the exactitudes of research and learning do not always have to be like that. It might not even be in your best interest to approach things from that angle. When I wrote a fictional biography about a boat builder it wouldn’t have done at all to approach things with good reason. My guy, Derek Gainsborough didn’t do anything with a plan in mind. That wouldn’t do for his local legend, and it wouldn’t have done for me as his author to pen him in too much at my end. That meant I had to get creative about researching the details I needed regarding boat building throughout the 1970s and 80s. Lucky for me, I lived on the Suffolk coast and knew a couple of boat builders who were more than willing to argue over answers to my questions in great detail. It didn’t give me exactitudes but it did give me the thin spaces between their different answers, either of which could have been correct. Or neither. I can’t say I checked because a man’s story is his internal mythology and not a piece of archaeology. You couldn’t go digging for Derek Gainsborough if you wanted. I made him up, even if in his creation he lives in my heart as something to be tended over.
But I loved the intensity with which my nautical data ambassadors, James and Christopher, masticated over the ineptitudes of each other’s experience on the matters at hand. Both could appear in universal agreement of the destination, but wander all over the place about the route to get there. That thin space between them was what I was going for. That place of legend that is in and out of understanding, the slippy space which you can’t control but you can manoeuvre through, in the flow of the slip as persistent mystery over omni-mastery of detail.
That was my excuse when my editor got an early draft of the book and asked for all my notes and timeline. I had nothing to give her besides my reasoning as to why there was nothing. Editors love this sort of thing. They’ll probably ask if you recorded James and Christopher’s research details because that would be really useful to them. LOL.
I just don’t take things in like that. I need to sit amongst stuff and get a smell of it, not get my notebook out and miss something because I am trying to scribble words down. Its slippy stuff is stuff and I find it best to let the current of it take you.
And there at church, with it all washing over and through me, all those thin spaces… it is always the best research that I never did.
‘It is the glory of God to conceal a thing. But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.’