Friday, September 18, 2009

Going there in your head

Back at the HNS conference in June of this year, they offered a session on what to do for research when you couldn't travel to the location. I distinctly remember that being one of the time slots when there was more than one talk I wanted to attend and so I missed it, but I can't tell you how often this comes up for historical fiction writers. This is an enormous problem especially when you live in rural Ohio and are writing about 14th century England and Scotland. Around here, about the only on-site research I can do would be picking a farmer's brain about the mechanical workings of a John Deere tractor.

This week I've been writing a scene which takes place at Scarborough Castle in 1312, just before Piers Gaveston was besieged there and gave himself up. Very likely, it was the last place that he and Edward II were together - and what a heart-wrenching time that must have been, knowing the the Earl of Lancaster was bearing down on them, hellbent on capturing Gaveston and bringing the king to terms.

Flipping through every book on my shelf, I discovered I had zero useable details to draw on. So, the internet search began and suddenly I had dozens of details through pictures and descriptions. I needed to know where the castle is located in relation to the sea and town, the topographical layout of the surrounds, and the blueprint of the castle itself. This, at least, told me something about the architecture, the vistas from any vantage point, and how impregnable the fortress was due to its location on a promontory on an isthmus of land.

Now, I have a setting in my head. I can envision what lies to the east, west, north or south. Where they might have been standing when they shared their last words. The lay of the land. The smell of salt air and the sting of the wind.

It's something, but I still wish I could go there, even though the place is in ruins, the buzz of automobiles can probably be heard in the distance and there are motorized yachts in the harbor instead of medieval sailing ships. The internet is a valuable tool that puts the world at our fingertips, but there's something transcendental and inspirational about standing in the spot where history unfolded. This is when I wish I was independently wealthy and could just hop a plane and be there.

Until later,


Anita Davison said...

I wish I could send you an air ticket, but have to go second best and send some piccies.

Lisa J Yarde said...

I do believe that there's nothing better than being there but unfortunately, it's not always possible. You do paint a scene beautifully, Gemi, that makes me feel as if I'm there experiencing it with your characters. So you're definitely doing something right.

N. Gemini Sasson said...

Thanks to the lovely Anita I now have some incredible pictures of Scarborough! That challenging scene suddenly became loads easier to write.

Anita Davison said...

I would like to qualify the above - I sent her photos of the impressive castle ruins - not the sea front with the candy floss stands, fish and chip shops and kiss-me-quick hats!!!

Celtic Sprite said...

Guess we should outdraw a line in between historical and fictional subjects. Probably a historical point of view should be more attached to facts and events and landscapes more than a fictional... isn't it?
Keep up the good work Gemini!
Celtic Sprite