Attention to Detail: The Art of Research

By Alexandra Grigorescu

Delegates banner - Alexandra Grigorescu

The Delegate Programme is an opportunity for local authors and journalists to enrich the level of discussion at select events throughout the International Festival of Authors. Alexandra Grigorescu—author of Cauchemar—wrote about her experience as an IFOA 2017 delegate and for her, a panel on research caught her attention.


I’ve been attending the International Festival of Authors for years. First, as a student enamoured with the writing life, then as a writer looking for pointers, then as a giddy participant, and now as a delegate. I played against my genre-loving type and chose a disparate set of panels: Keep It Short, The Lives of Underdogs, and Writing an Informed Story. Of these, the last one resonated most with me.

Deborah Dundas’ thoughtful questions took the audience behind the scenes of three distinct worlds and the facts that grounded their authors’ flights of fancy. What inspired me most was the way these three writers—Helen Humphreys, Claire Cameron and Roberta Rich—all began with a germ of an idea.

A thought, an image, a question: this is often how a book is born. My own began with a sentence that I typed into my phone while waiting on a subway platform, and it so captivated me that I put in the time to carry it through.

Whether it was an apple eaten on a stroll (The Ghost Orchard), an article on the Neanderthal genome (The Last Neanderthal), or an interest in midwifery and forceps (A Trial in Venice), all three writers discussed how they researched their works, implemented their findings, and why they chose to take creative liberties with their subject matter. I was particularly taken with Claire Cameron’s research-based methods for imagining how Neanderthals would speak and sense their surroundings.

Writing An Informed Story event at the Lakeside Terrace (Harbourfront Centre) on Sunday, October 29, 2017. Featuring (L to R) Claire Cameron, Deborah Dundas, Helen Humphreys and Roberta Rich. Photographed by G Lobb.

Writing An Informed Story event at the Lakeside Terrace (Harbourfront Centre) on Sunday, October 29, 2017. Featuring (L to R) Claire Cameron, Deborah Dundas, Helen Humphreys and Roberta Rich.

This is why I love writing. The ability to, out of some small seedling of a thought, develop a whole landscape and an entire narrative. This served as a much-needed reminder that research does not have to be at odds with creativity—that one can ground the other, and by doing so, allow it to grow that much stronger.

The Writing an Informed Story panel also served as punctuation—a bold exclamation mark, maybe—for my overall experience at the festival. While writing can and often does happen in the mushroom dank of solitude, a sense of community sparks it back to life when it begins to wane. Whether listening to a dialogue on form that opens the mind to new possibilities, a panel on underdogs that reveals the strength of marginalized voices, or even a late-night conversation in the IFOA lounge, time and time again I was reminded of this. And sometimes, it was simply the pleasure at seeing old friends and making new ones over this passion we all share: a love of stories, whether writing them, reading them, or hearing how they’re built.


grigorescu-alexandra_credit-maja-hajdukAlexandra Grigorescu‘s first novel Cauchemar (ECW Press, 2015) was selected as the Amazon.ca Editors’ Canadian Spotlight for March 2015 and nominated for a 2016 Sunburst Award. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from U of T and lives in Toronto.