Researching 1970s New York (as a British Author)
Researching 1970s New York (as a British Author)

Researching 1970s New York (as a British Author)

Part of my novel is set in New York in the 1970s. I have been to Manhattan myself several times over the last twenty years, but that couldn’t tell me what it was like in a far earlier and very different era. Which meant I had to research a number of specific and more generic things. (And don’t worry, there are no spoilers here if you haven’t read my book yet!)

The first thing which I had to do was find out more about Washington Square Park. That is where Caroline and Jon ‘land’ (arrive) when they visit their first gig in New York. Fortunately, there are online maps of the area from that time, and lots of photos and videos. The videos were wonderful and provided my own way to virtually time-travel back to the sixties and seventies; a great way to waste a few hours.

I also needed to know how the streets and shops differed from today, the sort of cars and vehicles on the streets, how Greenwich Village looked compared to now, and what Brooklyn was like in those times. I found out what institutions and buildings have since been decommissioned or moved premise. It took a lot more reading, Googling and talking to a few helpful people.

There were also more generic challenges such as finding out what was on American telly at that time, who was famous in that era, making sure I had my Presidents right (and my British PM) and what phrases and words young Americans might have used in those days. And, of course, the music and musicians of the time.

One fun thing which took me a while to crack was what sort of prices things would have cost in the 1970s. You can work out some of it from looking at generic websites which tell you what the dollar was worth then compared to now, but that doesn’t dig down to the specifics I needed to know. How much was a cup of coffee and a stack of pancakes in a late-night cafe (I found photos of old menus online), how much would a night cost at a hotel/cheap guest-house, a can of antiperspirant, a coat from a secondhand store, and some far more significant prices of things which I won’t share here because they would provide spoilers. Save to say that I had to find some obscure, detailed journals and research papers to get an idea of those costs.

Even after all that, I received some (very gracious!) feedback from a reader during my pre-sales period that I had got one fact wrong. Annoying, but not story-defining, thank goodness. If I do sell enough to re-print the paperback, then I will correct that in my second edition!

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