Writing When You Know Nothing - The Art of Letting Go Blog Tour

How do you go about researching a book? Does it matter if things are accurate - cities, facts, the way things work? I'm turning over m'blog today to a fellow writer - a fellow debut writer - to answer just that question. Chloe Banks' debut novel, The Art of Letting Go, came out last month, and Chloe's already written some great posts on how failing made her better and the importance of a strong voice in writing.

The Art of Letting Go tells the story of Rosemary, whose peaceful seclusion is disrupted by the man she hoped she'd managed to be rid of decades earlier; only this time he’s lying in a coma and Rosemary must decide whether to let him live, or let him go. In the midst of her secret dilemma  she meets an abstract artist who is used to manipulating shapes and colours to make people see things differently. But what else is he manipulating? And can he help Rosemary see her own situation in a different light?

The Art of Letting Go is available as a paperback and an e-book here.

Now, over to Chloe...


If you gave me a lifetime to do it, I could never write a historical novel. I just know that within 48 hours of publishing the masterpiece that took a decade of painstaking research, somebody would be on Amazon telling the world that I am a buffoon for not realising a word I used on page 278 wasn’t invented until six months after the events in my book took place.

I do, however, want to write modern novels that are accurate. In The Art of Letting Go, my main character Rosemary spent the first three drafts happily running up and down steps cut into sandstone cliffs in Sussex. In draft four I checked the geology of that particular stretch of English coastline – it’s chalk not sandstone. Similarly, Rosemary regularly visited a hospice, right up until the moment my mother-in-law pointed out that I probably meant a private hospital, not a hospice. God bless in-laws who happen to be nurses.

All these minor details are one thing, whole areas of expertise are another. The Art of Letting Go might not be a historical romp or a police procedural, but it does have an abstract artist as one of the principal characters. I know nothing about art. In the first draft, I tried very hard to skirt round the subject of painting as much as possible – alluding to it, but never directly addressing it. And it was ridiculous. For something so fundamental to both character insight and theme, to avoid it would’ve made the whole novel pointless. So I set about reading.

I didn’t spend six months visiting the major European art galleries, but I did read a lot about abstract art movements. And as I researched, I found something odd. Not only was it enjoyable to be learning something new, but the story developed in ways I hadn’t imagined. Instead of using art to add a little detail to the narrative, art began to direct the narrative instead. As I read about how painters manipulated colour and shapes, I could see parallels with the way my characters manipulated people and situations. Art began to twist its way through the novel and hold it all together, creating a subtext I was barely aware existed in the first draft. I ended up having to cut the amount of art in the book, rather than add to it.

When I look back now, I wonder how I had the audacity to write a novel about something I know zilch about. And perhaps the answer is that I didn’t set out to write about art; I set out to tell the story of an artist. So while I’ll never perhaps choose to write in a genre that requires months of background reading, I now look forward to researching the ideas behind my latest projects (currently involving heart transplants, train derailments and arranged marriages). If nothing else it has the potential to make me sound more intelligent at parties. Who was the founder of neo-plasticism, you ask? Why, Piet Mondrian of course! So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to read up on how to steer conversations on to the topic of 20th-century art movements. See you at the bar.

Do you enjoy research? Have you ever come across (or been responsible for!) details in a book that are just plain wrong?

Chloe Banks lives in Devon with her husband, son and an obsession with words. She started writing for a dare and forgot to stop until it was too late. She is a prize-winning short story writer and a first-time novelist, represented by The Andrew Lownie Literary Agency.


  1. Good to hear about research threading its way into the work and informing the plot, rather than just being dropped into the flow of the text like a rock into a stream (we've all read books like that, right?).

    One example of poor research that springs to mind was a short story I read a couple of years ago where part of the imagery relied on a metaphor involving the famous series of black-and-white photographs of a galloping horse. The author kept referring to the way that however fast the horse was going, however graceful it looked, it always had at least one foot on the ground. I got the feeling they thought they were being very deep and insightful, but of course the problem is that the whole reason those photographs are so well-known is that they show the horse actually does take all four feet off the ground between strides.

    I spent the whole time wondering whether the author had just not bothered to check, or whether they'd thought the metaphor for their main character's situation was so powerful that a small matter like the thing they were referring to actually proving the exact opposite of what they were saying wouldn't matter. Either way, I wasn't impressed.

    1. Sounds like a big oversight - and a problem for the author. I'm happy for writers to take liberties - after all, it's fiction, and doesn't have to be true - but if it ever seems like a mistake, rather than an intentional meddling with reality, it grates. I've had Londoners complain to be that certain books couldn't work because the Tube stops mentioned were in the wrong place, or didn't connect. On the one hand, I wonder if it matters - but on the other, it's such a simple thing to get right, it would have been so easy to fix.

    2. There's a difference between presenting an alternative reality and just changing something because it suits you better, isn't there? When there's no reason for something not to be accurate, or when somebody - as with the horse example Dan gives - seems to be mistaken and it undermines the whole point, then it's just lazy writing.

    3. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials is brilliant because it starts in an 'other' Oxford - where he has the freedom to change whatever he wants - and then moves to factual Oxford, where the streets follow the 'correct' map. Then, he lived there, so it wasn't too hard to research. I've never written a book set in a real city, though I do have vague plans for one in Bristol - and when I do, I'll want it to be as factual as possible - so good you could use it as a map

    4. When I wrote a children's book I was advised to move it to a real place I knew to give it more precision and so I chose Bristol! I love alternate realities. Have you read Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books? Brilliant. It should be illegal for book lovers not to have read The Eyre Affair!

    5. I have read them all, and met Fforde. I've never been to Swindon, though I like to think it's exactly as he describes it...

    6. My dad was partly responsible for the magic roundabout in Swindon. Voted one of the top motoring nightmares in the UK in the same year Dad got a CBE in the New Year Honours List. Proud.