Sunday, 24 September 2017

Harrowing Research for Lost in the Lake

Most writers have to undertake background research for their novels, so I'm here to tell you about some of the grisly details I came across when preparing my latest book, Lost in the Lake!  

Lost in the Lake is a standalone novel (and also second in the series featuring intrepid psychologist, Dr Samantha Willerby.) It’s a twisty tale of deception, jealousy, loneliness and the craving to belong: a tangled Murder Mystery on the surface and a sinister Psychological Thriller underneath.

For the ‘mystery’ part of Lost in the Lake I had to investigate what happens when a small clapped-out van hits deep water and how you escape when it’s sinking fast. My research brought up some surprises, I can tell you, and a word of warning – it’s not for the faint hearted! 

Firstly, as soon as a vehicle hits the water and starts sinking, there’s no way you can get the doors open. This is because the pressure inside and outside is uneven until the interior has completely filled with water and the pressure has equalised. In other words, you have to wait until the car hits the bottom of the lake and is totally submerged before you can get a door open. If you try before then, you’re completely wasting valuable breath…

Once a vehicle has hit the water it usually takes between two and ten minutes for it to sink. This can happen faster, depending on the speed, angle of entry and the physical characteristics of the vehicle. So, if you can’t open the doors, what about the windows? Crucial to my story was whether the windows had winders or were electronic and I needed to know what effect the water would have on the electrics.

During my research, I came across a first-hand account of a driver who re-entered a submerged car through an open side window to retrieve his wallet. While he was inside trying to find it, the window automatically went up, the doors locked, the power shut off and he was trapped inside the car. Terrifying! The lesson being, that in most situations, the electrical system inside the car goes haywire after full submersion. That involves the central locking, windows and sun roof.

It’s worth remembering, though, that many cars have window winders in the back and central locking in the front. The vehicle in Lost in the Lake, however, is one of those small delivery vans with windows only at the front and glass panels in the back doors. In that case, if the windows lock, how on earth do you get out? My main character, Rosie, manages it somehow. She thinks she’s the only survivor…but is she?

Other amazing facts I learnt:

· You can’t break a window by kicking it even if you’re fighting for your life. You might kick so hard that the steel window frame bends out a fraction, but the glass won’t break.

· As a rule of thumb, when travelling near a large body of water, it’s advisable to crack open your window a fraction and, if the worst happens, open it fully as soon as you hit the water, before the electrics short out. This allows the water to come in and equalise the pressure faster, even if you can’t climb out that way. It will mean you can get the doors open quicker.

· Airbags need a collision force equal to running into a brick wall at 10 to 15 miles per hour to activate. Water cushions the blow in a crash into water, so airbags don’t deploy. I didn’t realise this!

I always find research for stories fascinating and an exciting outcome is that it invariably throws up new angles for the plot!

Many thanks to Anne where this post was originally posted on her excellent blog.

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(Lost in the Lake is also second in the series featuring clinical psychologist, Dr Samantha Willerby)
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