Getting the Detail Right: Keep Your Eyes On Me & The Queen’s Gambit

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When I start to develop an idea for a book, character is a vital element that I spend a lot of time on. From working out my protagonists birthdates, to what they studied in college, I check out what was in the charts when they were 16, and 18, I look at world events that may have been formative, how they drink their coffee and what make of car they drive. I really try and get inside their heads.

I love research – clcik the image below to watch back Six Minutes on Story below – ahem, perhaps ten minutes – which touches on the research I did for Keep Your Eyes On Me. It involves stolen and forged art, stolen antiquities, jewellery design, a complex journey from London to Dublin and back in 24 hours (and yes, I checked every single step of that trip to ensure that it was possible – and how to make it, crucially, untraceable). It’s essential to me that if a jewellery designer, or psychologist, or an art forger or indeed art collector, reads the book, that they believe my creation of their world.

And this attention to detail is one reason that ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ is so brilliant. Based on the novel of the same title written by Walter Tevis, the New York Times says:

FORGET just for a moment that Walter Tevis’s ”The Queen’s Gambit” is a novel about the game of chess – the best one that I know of to be written since Nabokov’s ”Defense.” Consider it as a psychological thriller, a contest pitting human rationality against the self’s unconscious urge to wipe out thought….The battlefield here is a mind – the prodigious power to reason of Elizabeth Harmon, whom we first encounter as an 8-year-old in a Kentucky orphanage. The forces for evil in the fight are drugs and alcohol, which Beth at first comes to know because of the orphanage’s practice of keeping its children tranquilized. Later on in the novel, Beth’s mind will be invaded by extremes of loneliness and inferiority. 

It’s a brilliant story, and Beth Harmon is a fabulous creation – I love to write strong female characters and I’m rooting for her and loving her confidence and skill through every minute of the series. She’s brave and uncompromising, and has a mind that is always three steps ahead of her opponent, at every juncture.

But it’s the detailed research and delivery that makes this series a masterpiece. It would have been easy to fudge the matches, to focus on character and emotion and lose the true heart of this intriguing story. But the filmmakers went the extra mile:

Working with two consultants, Garry Kasparov, the former world champion, and Bruce Pandolfini, a well-known New York City chess coach, the creators of “The Queen’s Gambit” have avoided those errors. (Pandolfini even has a cameo role as a Kentucky tournament director.) The actors were trained on how to play and to move pieces like experts, which is usually done with swift, almost machine-gun-like movements. Taylor-Joy actually developed her own, more fluid style, as she explained in an interview with Chess Life magazine, which was based on her training as a dancer.

New York Times

and when it comes to detail, you don’t get much better than this:

The games portrayed in the series are not just realistic, they are real, based on actual competitions. For example, the match in which Beth defeats Harry for the Kentucky state title was from a game in Riga, Latvia, in 1955; the last speed chess game in which she beats Benny was played at the Paris Opera in 1858; and the game in which she faces the Russian champion Vasily Borgov (Marcin Dorocinski) in the series finale was played in Biel, Switzerland, in 1993.

New York Times

Not only is the chess play real, the costumes, colour and tone of 1960s America is captured brilliantly, as viewers are agreeing in their droves. Here’s the full New York Times article:

If you haven’t watched it, put it on your must see list. It makes a total change to other series, and there isn’t a dead body in sight!

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