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How far would you go to research a scene for your story?

How far would you go to research a scene for your story?


I find myself in a cell in a Garda station. The noise of that heavy door clanging closed with the follow on sounds of the upper and lower bolts is something I never want to hear again. There’s a finality about it. I’ve left a part of my life behind me and I can’t go back and change it. At first the cell seems bigger than I had imagined it would be but after a while the walls begin to draw in on me. The stone slab with its plastic blue mattress and the uninviting, blue blanket are too near for comfort as I lean against the opposite wall. I look up and see the names of my previous fellow occupants and marvel at what they may have used to pen their autographs. On closer inspection I realise that somehow they have managed to get their lighters past the ‘welcoming committee’ and have flamed their names into the ceiling.

The silver toilet, set into its concrete cube is the elephant in the room; standing out and drawing my unwanted attention. Just the thought of needing to use it is enough to get the acid rising from my stomach. The flush is outside the steel filled door. Nothing is left in the room or on my body that might be helpful to me if I wanted to self-harm.

And the smells. They mingle together to make one distinctive odour that’s like nothing else I’ve smelled before.

There are small square windows lighting the cell from high up on the wall. Their frosted glass lets in light but not the outside world. I reach out my hand to touch the roughly plastered wall and am filled with the coldness blocking out the heat of the summer’s day that I left only minutes before.

I can hear noises from my cell. People laughing, phones shrilling. I have nothing to be frightened of and yet I am filled with fear. I want out. 


The Garda on duty was so welcoming and very eager to answer all my questions about my character’s would-be experience. I sat in the bolted-down seat in the interview room and the ‘welcome’ room and had the whole process of being arrested explained to me; from the place where she is picked up to the drive to the police station. I could feel the probable tension of question and answer (or non-answer) sessions.

Well done to all our Gardaí for working in these dismal places. I couldn’t wait to get back out into the sunshine; to get home and get washed.

So today I sat down and wrote the chapter that had me stumped and it flowed. Now I could feel a little of what my character would feel. I hope it rings true with my readers.


How far would you go to research a scene for your story?


7 thoughts on “How far would you go to research a scene for your story?

  1. Well done. A certain level of authenticity is vital in crime fiction, and who would have known about the graffiti without seeing it? (Also, ‘flamed their names’ is a rather nice phrase…) For me, the main difficulty would be having the confidence to ask for the favour of a visit to the cells, so it’s good to know that the Garda were helpful. I wonder if North Yorkshire Police would let me do the same…

    Best wishes

    • I was amazed at how helpful the Gardaí were, Adrian. A year ago I never would have believed I’d be out there asking such things from people but I’m finding the research part of writing fascinating! Generally people are delighted to help. What you’re saying to them is that ‘I find your line of work amazingly interesting and I’d like to write about it.’ Go for their ego. It works!

  2. I’m imagining the Garda locking you up thinking it was bizarrely one of the nicer parts of his job… locking up a writer so they could better understand and describe an arrest has to be far more palatable than the real thing.
    Loved your observation on what someone would use for graffiti!
    Very impressed and inspired by your dedication and looking forward to reading the end result… will be watching out for your novel…

    • Or perhaps she decided that I needed locking up for being mad enough to ask! But I think the end result justifies the insanity…

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