Blog Tour: The Vets at Hope Green || Creating the Background by Sheila Norton
When my editor and I began to discuss ideas for my new book The Vets at Hope Green, which was to be published digitally first in serial style, and then in paperback, I felt both excited and a little nervous. Excited, because this project was something completely different from anything I’d done before, and anyway it’s always exciting to be embarking on the next book. But a little nervous, because we decided that the background setting of this story would be a veterinary surgery. Having written and published two successful ‘cat’ stories, we wanted to keep the animal theme going with this new book, but the story would be that of my heroine, Sam, who works at a vet’s.
Now, I do have a little experience of the human medical world, having been a medical secretary in the NHS for most of my working life – and I’ve often used that background in my novels. But needless to say, I’ve never worked in a vet’s. Again, I know quite a bit about dogs and cats, having enjoyed the companionship of several over the years – and I’ve had plenty of experience of visiting vets, too, with my own pets. But that’s where my experience ends! I’m not a country girl, and therefore had no working knowledge of cows, horses, sheep or pigs. So I realised there was going to have to be a fair amount of research involved in writing this book!
I have writing friends – notably those who write historical fiction – who say they enjoy the research process as much as the actual writing. I’ve never felt that way. Perhaps it’s because I write almost exclusively contemporary fiction, or at least none set any further back in time than my own memories extend, so research hasn’t had to play such a major part in my work. Of course, there’s always a certain amount to be done, and it’s an essential part of the process – nobody wants to read a book that hasn’t been researched properly. And I do always find it interesting, inevitably learning a lot in the process. But for me, it can’t possibly compare with the writing itself. Writing is my passion, nothing can beat the buzz of putting those words together to create my characters and their stories.
But I can’t complain. After all, research has never been easier for writers than it is today. With a couple of clicks of the mouse, we can visit towns and countries we’ve never been to, centuries we’ve never lived in, and experience jobs and ways of life we have no actual knowledge of. However, the internet can only ever be a starting point; we only have to compare the information on a couple of websites to realise that there can be any number of discrepancies between them. So how do we arrive at the truth? The answer has to be, wherever possible – from real people. Not possible, of course, if you’re writing about knights in the Middle Ages, or aliens from outer space. But vets? Completely possible!
Luckily I’d already made the acquaintance of Sharon, the clinical director at my local vet’s, while I was writing Charlie, the Kitten Who Saved a Life. I didn’t need too much veterinary information for the cat books, but there’d been one episode in Charlie where I wanted to make sure that what I’d written about his treatment by a vet was realistic, and Sharon had been pleased to help. So it was very reassuring to be able to rely on her advice again for The Vets at Hope Green. Before I even started writing, I wanted to know a little about how a vet surgery is set up. For instance it was important to ask how realistic it was to have one vet working on his own in a small village practice. how many members of staff he might need, and what sort of duties a receptionist in a vets’ could be expected to take on.
Then as the story progressed, there were several clinical episodes I needed to run past Sharon. I tried to keep this to a minimum, as I knew she must be very busy with her own work. There’s a fine line between a professional being happy to help an author, and the author beginning to become a nuisance! I always think email is a lot less intrusive than a phone call, and can be dealt with in your own time. So I’d normally copy just the relevant couple of paragraphs of the story into an email and ask Sharon to let me know whether what I’d written seemed realistic, or whether there was anything else my fictional vet ought to be doing in the situation.
I loved writing about the animals in this book. Rufus the Springer spaniel, the canine ‘character’ in Part 1, was a deliberate choice, because we used to have a Springer spaniel ourselves, my lovely Sophie who, like Rufus, lived to a grand old age and was a delightful character. I always enjoy writing about cats too – bringing back memories of my own furry friends. When it came to the episode with a pony, I drew on some memories of many years ago when one of my young daughters used to ride. Going to the riding stables with her, watching her with the ponies, and remembering how nervous I felt when she took part in gymkhanas – luckily it all came rushing back to me. With pigs, though, I must admit I relied totally on reading up lots of information on the internet!
I really enjoyed finding out more about the work of vets and their staff, for this book. I like creating different settings for my characters and their stories, and I hope my readers will agree that the village of Hope Green, and the veterinary surgery itself, combine to provide a rich background for Sam’s story to play out against.
The paperback edition of The Vets at Hope Green is published by Ebury on 1 June 2017.
Find out more about Sheila Norton’s novels at www.sheilanorton.com
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