Monday, February 11, 2013

A Writer's Research

Here's an interview that rather grandly talks about my "research techniques". I wasn't aware of having any techniques, really, just some "things that I do". The people at Writers' Forum Magazine were kind enough to show an interest and here's a picture of the resulting interview...

I enjoy interviews. I might resurrect my popular series, "Answers to Somebody Else's Interview Questions". For now, I hope you enjoy my thoughts on how I research the Jimmy Coates books.

And if you're very observant, you might spot a bit of news about Jimmy Coates: Blackout...

For those interested, I've found my notes from the discussion about toxins in shark meat, mentioned in the article. Here's the discussion that bounced between me and my editor after I'd seen the copy editor had wrongly changed 'trimethylamine oxide' to 'uric acid':

39              Not uric acid. That’s different. Please keep as ‘trimethylamine oxide’.  Eek! Fact dispute - the copy editor checked this and made a long note about the trimethylamine oxide being non toxic. The flesh is toxic due to high concentration of uric acid which the shark uses to make the t-oxide. Would you mind double-checking? And if you still disagree, I’ll change it back.
I think the confusion here is because there’s one fairly commonly known fact - that shark meat contains uric acid and that uric acid is toxic – and another, much less known fact, which is the one relevant here. It’s the first fact that you’ll find most written about on the internet, for example. But the shark meat in the book is from a different type of shark. All shark meat contains uric acid, (and incidentally I think for uric acid it makes no difference whether you cook the meat or not – I can’t remember that specifically) but Greenland Shark (from which Hakarl is made) is dangerous when raw because the trimethylamine oxide (non-toxic in itself) produces the toxin trimethylamine when ingested.
Uric acid is still present in cooked shark meat and if you ate enough of the stuff every day you’d eventually die of it, but that’s not relevant here, and I think that’s what’s confusing the issue. What I’m talking about here is a different effect: Greenland Shark has a far higher concentration of trimethylamine oxide than other sharks (apparently something to do with the fact that it lives under ice most of the time) and that’s what is toxic when the meat is eaten raw or untreated – not the uric acid.
That’s the longish answer. Short answer: here it should definitely be ‘trimethylamine oxide’, not ‘uric acid’, because it’s a different type of shark, even though it’s also true that in ALL sharks there’s uric acid, which is toxic.
If that makes no sense at all give me a ring and I’ll try rambling more successfully out loud!

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