Why I love research
by Sue Moorcroft
When I decided to make Dominic Christy suffer from a rare sleep disorder, narcolepsy, in Dream a Little Dream, I wanted him to have had a career that would hit a brick wall, a job that involved shiftwork and high concentration.
Which is how I decided to make Dominic an air traffic controller. I chose Stansted, a London airport, for its location in relation to the book. We take those in ‘the tower’ for granted, without thinking of the thousands of lives they hold in their hands every day or the emergencies they cope with. A high-pressure environment, the training is intense.
I have a friend who was in fighter control in the Royal Air Force and had done some route planning for private aviation at Stansted, so I began with an interview with him. (We met for lunch and I let him go at about seven in the evening …) He gave me fabulous background on the kind of man Dominic would be – decisive, incisive, fact based, information hungry, strong, active, and loads of other good ‘hero’ qualities. That he’s what you might term a ‘damaged hero’ means he has to be even stronger, of course, to cope with his health challenge.
I asked Dave if he could get me into Stansted tower more in hope than expectation but he said, ‘I’ll give it a go.’ The next week I found myself copied into e-mails with Stansted’s public relations department and Paul, the general manager of NATS, Stansted. And, within a few days … we were there. In the tower.
It was AMAZING.
In the offices at the foot of the tower I had the opportunity to ask Paul about the life of an Air Traffic Control Officer (ATCO), about what would work in my story, and, crucially, how human resources would have handled Dominic’s narcolepsy. Then we were escorted to an elevator that seemed to go up forever. And we stepped out on the top of the world.
OK, it wasn’t quite, but it felt like it – a glass room with all-round views, the aprons, taxiways, runways, stands and aircraft laid out like toys that a giant child had forgotten to put away. Airliners hung in the sky as they approached the runway and speed and distance information blipped up on computer screens. It was a sunny day and the view was beautiful. I was allowed to sit with the guy who was moving the aircraft from the stands to the runways then passing them on to another controller to get them up in the air. He was passing those that had landed, in return, to ‘my’ controller. Through earphones I could hear the conversation with the pilots and the computer readouts were explained, and how the ‘strips’ that represent each aircraft move back and forth across them. I was impressed that the controller had the mental capacity to explain what he was doing whilst he did it!
The time in the tower passed in a blink and I was reluctantly prised from my controller’s side for a quick chat with the watch manager before being escorted back down to the bottom of the tower and, pleasantly, shown the door.
It’s a day that’ll stick in my memory – the day I discovered who Dominic Christy was before Dream a Little Dream begins. And realised that the training is aviation specific so doesn’t transfer easily to other jobs, causing Dominic problems for me to iron out for him. Eventually. And, of course, I had to make a woman, Liza Reece, one of the most significant problems of all.
How did I do that? I gave Dominic a new dream. And I gave Liza one, too.
But if Dominic realises his dream then Liza can’t realise hers and if Liza gets hers then Dominic can’t get his. That’s quite a reality to wake up to.
Sue Moorcroft writes romantic novels of dauntless heroines and irresistible heroes. Love & Freedom won the Best Romantic Read Award 2011 at the Festival of Romance and Dream a Little Dream was nominated for the same award in 2012 as well as a RoNA in the Contemporary Romantic Fiction category. Sue is a Katie Fforde Bursary Award winner. She’ll take up the position of vice chair of the RNA in May 2013. Combining writing success with her experience as a creative writing tutor she’s written a ‘how to’ book, Love Writing – How to Make Money From Writing Romantic and Erotic Fiction.