As it’s Valentines weekend I thought I’d share one of my great loves of writing. It also happens to be one of my favourite parts of reading and one of the things I enjoyed most whilst studying for my English degree all those years ago. It is…research.
What other profession allows you to study the running of a pub one day and the kinds of plants that grow in West London the next? Or the ins and outs of pregnancy one week and gruesome murders the next? It’s a thought-provoking, enriching part of the writing process and, every now and then, you come across something so wonderfully weird that it has to be shared.
This week I was rewriting a scene that required research into placenta praevia, a complication that can arise during pregnancy where the placenta lies low in the uterus, often blocking the cervix, and can lead to massive haemorrhage. What I came across was incredible, highlighting not only how far our medical care has come since the nineteenth century, or what the human body can sustain and still survive, but also the incredible creativity of doctors throughout time. And, my oh my, did it reignite my love affair with research.
Picture the scene; you’re thirty weeks pregnant, suffer from placenta praevia and the year is (sadly for you) 1870. In walks your doctor, rolls up his coat sleeves, parts your legs and plunges fist first into your nether regions. He rummages around until he finds the baby’s foot, pulls the foot out and attaches a weight to it, thereby using the weighted baby’s leg to pressurize the wound and stop the bleeding. The doctor didn’t need to take his coat off, or even wash his hands.
Who the hell, I thought, came up with that solution? What was their thought process? Who decided that you needn’t bother to remove your coat? Instantly all kinds of new stories and characters began to emerge and I realised another benefit of research. Not only do you come across astounding nuggets of information, but your future characters and storylines benefit too!
** If you want to read more about the history of placenta praevia, I found this article very useful.