Sunday, 29 September 2013

Imagery in Writing

When it comes to fiction images are provided by the author in the text. However I don’t write fiction and thus need to find images to illustrate the subject in question.

Sometimes the subject hardly lends itself well to imagery, such as my books on place names. Whilst views of the villages and hamlets seems obvious, as the photographs are reproduced in black and white the subject has to be a simple one and a general view of the place simply does not work. In some counties I have been lucky enough to find an attractive village sign, usually showing something of what can be found locally. At other times I have to resort to snapping the local signposts – at least these reproduce well in black and white.

When it comes to my books on the paranormal the same problem arises. I can photograph the location or even the venue of the story but images of the event are impossible – at least I’ve never told a story where an accompanying image exists. Other subjects proved equally problematical, albeit for different reasons. Those on ancient tracks would have benefited from an aerial view, but this will obviously increase the expense dramatically.

When I started writing twenty years ago my camera contained a film, indeed I must have been one of the last to switch to digital photography. The advantages of digital photography are twofold. Firstly it is very much cheaper, there being no film to buy or development costs which means we can take as many images as we desire to ensure the best result. I now habitually take as many as half a dozen well-nigh identical shots to ensure I have a choice. Digital cameras also have the screen to enable us to see the finished result there and then, thus any awful images can be discarded immediately.

Generally speaking my books feature historical subjects. Clearly I can’t take an image of the Saxons in the place whose name I’m defining and images don’t exist prior to the invention of the camera. When it came to more recent history, such as when looking for old images for my five Through Time books and in particular the railways as they were before the closures in the 1960s in my look at the heritage railways in the post-Beeching era. Not having any material myself I had to resort to looking elsewhere for images. Of course these are subject to copyright and I am extremely grateful to those who freely offered the use of photographs from their personal collections.

I do feel my photographic skills have improved over the years. I particularly enjoyed the challenge of taking a modern view of an image first pictured 50, 75 and even over a century ago in the Through Time books. The question is, is all this worth the effort. Just how useful a tool is a photograph? Do images really do anything but break up the text? I sincerely hope so as I have recently spent many hours and endless miles driving around Cornwall, Northumberland, and the Home Counties just to capture enough images for five or six forthcoming books.

As always I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

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