The Pleasure and Pain of Research

I’ve cranked myself up to write another Hawk book.  It’ll be the seventh in the Nathan Hawk Murder Mysteries and an element of it will involve a small ‘coven’ of modern ‘witches’. I use quotation marks because these characters will turn out to be the vain, fashionable, hobbyist kind of witches – a million miles from the real thing.



So, as usual I set about doing some research, only to find that there’s an overwhelming amount of source material. Most of it is … indifferently written, I have to say, then I stumbled across ‘What Witches Do’  by Stewart Farrar. It’s an excellent piece of writing though it suffers from so much that’s wrong with self-publishing today. It has a dull, lacklustre cover and  is badly typeset with as many words as possible crammed into each page.  That said, with perseverance it reveals that modern witchcraft is an ancient, highly moral and complex belief whose purpose is for good. I hope that explains its recent rise in popularity. I have doubts. Like all beliefs it can be distorted and used for evil – and this of course is the edge I’m looking for.



But there is so much to know about the Craft. It goes back thousands of years and has always been subject to incredible influences and diversity. However,  like all research, when you begin it you soon get drawn in. 


And sometimes when you don’t really want to be. 

 When I was writing Lovejoy (a television series about an unconventional antiques dealer) I would tap into the numerous television antiques shows for info and ideas. One such programme was ‘Bargain Hunt’. It’s a show in which two teams of punters buy  three items at antiques fairs and then sell at auction for a hopeful profit.   I’ve often wondered why I’m so hooked on it and have been for thirty years. After all, it’s the BBC at its cheapest and ranks alongside cookery and gardening programmes.

So why am I drawn to it?  One reason is that it airs just before lunchtime and I defy  any writer not to at least catch a glimpse of it. Habit is my lame excuse but more to the point it has provided me with so much raw material about  human foibles, aspiration, and, of course, dirt cheap antiques. And it keeps on giving. I can point to at least five Nathan Hawk Murder Mysteries characters who ‘began their existence’, as it were, in episodes of Bargain Hunt.  Contestants and experts alike!

Here’s a confession. I once suggested to the producer that she choose two teams from among the Lovejoy writers, if only to see how much or little they really knew. She thought it was a great idea … but then the a problem arose. She couldn’t get the writers to agree to do it. We’re a funny lot, writers. We’re either always out there showing off, or skulking away behind the arras for fear of being recognised.

I don’t know if the latter explains why Russell Lewis didn’t appear in the documentary about the ITV series Inspector Morse and its prequel Endeavour.  He should have done and if he quibbled he should have been dragged into the limelight.  He wrote every episode of Endeavour, and never put a foot wrong. Brilliant!  I heard once that he wanted to get a prequel to Lovejoy up and running. Great idea, but it never happened.


Douglas Watkinson is an English novelist, playwright and screenwriter.

1 Comment

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