Fantasy research: sweat the small vampires? Kate Johnson guests

fantasy author Kate Johnson with book The Untied Kingdom

How do you do fantasy research?
Do you actually have to?
Surely it’s all just make-believe?

Intriguing questions, aren’t they?

And we at Libertà didn’t have the answers, so we tagged fantasy and alternate-history author Kate Johnson to tell us how she does it. Being Kate, she gave us explanations with a side-order of slightly weird.

Enjoy the fun!

Kate Johnson’s take on fantasy research, and more

How on earth do you research things that don’t exist?

Well, here’s the thing: you might be writing about vampires or spaceships or magic paperclips, if that’s what your heart desires, but you’ve got to make them believable.fantasy research Spike and Joyce
You’ve got to make the reader trust you, and if you get the details wrong, they won’t.

Sweat the small stuff.

A reader can accept a big lie, but not a small one. By all means invent vampires, but don’t forget to find out how long it takes to exsanguinate a human body.

Honestly, officer…

I tell you what, my browser history could get me into quite a lot of trouble. Not long ago, I found myself researching the causes of amnesia. On the same day I also looked up avoiding CCTV detection, and property in Bermuda. But honestly, officer, it was all for a book.

fantasy research beautiful bermuda

Because you’re making up a lot of stuff for a paranormal story, you can’t actually prove that any of your research is true, but it does have to have the ring of plausibility.

Sometimes it IS rocket science

My latest book is set in space, and my hero is an engineer — yeah thanks, Brain, you know science is not our forte — so I had to give him things to do. “He fixed the engine-y thing and then it went faster,” is not quite the tone I was going for, so I found myself researching how spaceships are propelled and how they might have breathable air and gravity.

fantasy research what a spaceship might look like

You never know when a real-life rocket scientist might pick up your book, of course. Or report you for spending too much time on the NASA website.

And sometimes it’s just life

fantasy research? no, the real K8 with Lady LibertyOccasionally real life gives you an idea or two. I tend to write characters who get bashed around a lot, so when I got into a fight with a broken window — long story — and ended up needing stitches, I knew it’d end up in a book.

Even more so when it transpired I’d need to remove the stitches myself while I was in New York at a conference.

Some roommates can be so squeamish.

I’ll spare you the pictures of the actual stitches. But behold! Both bandage and Lady Liberty. Wasn’t making it up!

Alternate history and more

Alternate history can take authors down weird roads.

fantasy research real roman road in BritanniaOnce, I decided it’d be cool to write an alternate history, and use the ancient Roman and pre-Roman roads that some of our modern roads are still based on. Have you ever tried to estimate travel times using those, though?

My hero didn’t have Google Maps; he had a torn paper map and his thumb. So I sat there pressing my own thumb to the computer screen, glad I work from home with a door that shuts properly because I’m sure I looked really weird.


I’ve written about plenty of real places with unreal elements in them. I have a manuscript about an Irish detective and a girl who can see ghosts, so I looked up Dublin ghost stories on Shortly after, I found myself in the Leprechaun Museum on Jervis Street, talking to the fella who’d made the video I’d watched over and over. He found it utterly normal that I was asking precisely which wall the ghost of the Hanging Judge was said to walk through, please?

fantasy research K8 in a steel-boned corsetHowever, I probably shouldn’t’ve been taking photos of the Garda station behind Dublin Castle, even if it was relevant to the book. Looks a bit suspicious, that.

And of course, sometimes you just have to live out the research yourself.

On that note, I can tell you that a steel boned corset is actually reasonably comfortable. But it makes it bloody difficult to tie your own shoelaces.

Corsets and more about Kate Johnson

Great fun, wasn’t it? Many thanks to Kate and her corsets (which the Libertà hive has admired but not offered to try on). Kate’s backstory is — to say the least — different. She has a second cousin who held a Guinness World Record for brewing the strongest beer. And she once ran over herself with a Segway scooter. She misspent her youth watching lots of Joss Whedon and reading even more Terry Pratchett. She says that made it kind of inevitable that when she grew up to write romance novels, they’d be the weird ones around the edges. Kate now lives in the south of England with her cats who are only partially named after Whedon characters. Also a dog who is only partially evil. And she still loves Joss Whedon and Terry Pratchett.

You can learn more about Kate on her website or sign up for her newsletter here. Kate is often on Twitter and on Facebook too, so look her up there. We promise it will be different!

Kate’s latest book, Max Seventeen is out now and available here

cover of Max Seventeen by Kate Johnson

Action romance. In deep space.

Max is running. From jail, from hunger, and from the hard labour that awaits on the Zeta Secunda Mining Corps’ stinking land trains.

Riley is running. From terrible shame in the past, from dark secrets in the present, and from the Service who have very definite ideas about officers who abscond to join pirate crews.

The starship Eurydice could mean their salvation. But the enigmatic Captain Orpheus could betray them both at any minute. When a terrible plot is uncovered and loyalties are tested, Max and Riley face losing everything.

7 thoughts on “Fantasy research: sweat the small vampires? Kate Johnson guests

      1. Fenifur

        My Pinterest board of handsome men is cunningly, er, professionally titled ‘character faces’ to prove it is definitely for research purposes only. ????

    1. Kate Johnson

      I will add that I didn’t break the window on purpose!

      Glad you liked Max. My brain was having a particularly weird episode when it came up with that one!

  1. Elizabeth Bailey

    Hilarious, Kate. Get it on the thanks, Brain, thing totally. Not to mention engine-y thingy which is about where my technology starts and ends. Bravo to you for sticking with the necessary slog of hunting down the weird and wonderful!

    1. Kate Johnson

      The lovely thing about fantasy is that when you find something really weird, you can put it into the book without too much of a stretch. Or even work the book around it!

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