Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Remember When . . . We Went to Scotland?

Loch Morar, Highlands, Scotland

It's been a long, long time since I've had to research something totally new. The Lost Heiress may be my first Edwardian English book, but I've done the England research about a gazillion times for the previous versions. All I had to do was refresh, and do some year-specific reading.

But then I thought I'd better start the research for its sequel. And oh. Oh gracious. I felt in way over my head for a day or two!

Back seven or so years ago when I was working on the Victorian-set version of this series, I wrote the second book. My original idea came from when I was a teen, and the original title was Blue Skies in the Morning. But when the first book, originally Golden Sunset, Silver Tear became Fire Eyes round about that time, the sequel had to match. So I called it Wind Aflame.

My heroine, I decided then, would still be from Scotland, as I'd always wanted her to be. She would be an heiress, not just to land but to a title--because in Scotland, girls could inherit a title from their father. Her name would be Constance Augusta (as I planned at 14), but she would go by Gusty (same).

At the time, I'd given my hero, Brice, a title that was real but extinct. That was how I came to set that version of the book at Inverness--it was part of his title. This time around, I've completely fictionalized all titles, so he no longer has that connection. Which is the point of tossing my hands in the air.

Where in the world was I to start? How was I to know where to set this new version (tentatively titled The Outcast Duchess, though we'll see what it ends up as, LOL)? And why in the world did I only take half a page of notes when I was researching for Wind Aflame??? (Bad, Past-Roseanna! So not helpful to Future-Roseanna!) I reread that old, Victorian-set version and wrinkled my nose. I grant that only a few chapters are set in Scotland, but still. Those chapters did nothing to capture it, and I didn't get so much as a whiff of the Scots in Gusty, aside from a character occasionally commenting on the accent that was by no means evident in how I wrote her speech.

So then. I got down to business. My internet history is now full of everything from Gaelic words to what girls' schools in Edinburgh looked like. I've begun a new (secret, for now) Pinterest board filled with photos of lochs and castles and stark, staggeringly-beautiful mountains. I've looked up tartans and crofts and old steam railways. I've watched YouTube videos of hikes and train rides, of kayaks paddling from one loch to another. I've stumbled across tales of the greens kept at lairds' houses and castles for rousing games of football (soccer), of the woes accompanying the great Clearances that displaced so many Highland families in the 18th and 19th centuries, and of how the herring industry went from booming to non-existent.
Eilean Donan Castle - where three lochs meet
My prototype for the fictional Castle Kynn, on a similar (fictional) island
in Loch Morar. Can you imagine growing up there?

I've had books shipped in from other libraries, I've read novels, I've listened to audiobooks. And slowly, ever so slowly (okay, it feels slow, though I guess a week isn't, really, LOL), I've figured out where to set it--Loch Morar, I think. I've figured out who this Gusty girl is. She isn't, as Wind Aflame made her out to be, weak. She's got that stubborn Scots blood, after all (let it be noted, I have some of it too! My McDonald side left Scotland during one of those clearances and settled in Ireland, it seems, before making their way across the pond.). She'll have the burr in her speech, but be able to tone it down thanks to those years away from the Highlands at school. She has, now, a rather complicated family history that involves a mother from a Highland family who had emigrated to America and done well for themselves. A father who inherited a title from his mother's English side but a chiefdom from his father's, and puts all his heart in the then-outdated clan side rather than the far-more-popular peerage title.

Yesterday, as I was reading the oh-so-rich Edwardian Scotland that smells of old paper and disuse, shipped in from a library down-state for me, I paused and realized that I'm putting all this research into this, when I still won't have more than a handful of chapters set in the Highlands before my characters head south to Yorkshire, to London, to Sussex. That's probably why I took only half a page of notes before--because really, Scotland is a small part of the book.

But Scotland is a big part of the characters. And so I'll deem the weeks spent researching it worthwhile. Because we're all shaped, not just by where we wend up, but by where we come from. When I was living near the Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis, Maryland, it was growing up in the mountains of West Virginia that set me apart. Back in West Virginia, it's those years in Maryland's quaint, cultured capital that do the same. Each stop along our life's journey help fashion us into who we ultimately will be.

And that, I think, is what makes a character as rich as a person. That twist-and-turn, up-and-down, in-and-out of life.

And oh--what fun it is to discover it.

Loch Morar - Photo credit: photojenni via photopin cc
Eilean Donan Castle -  photo credit: byb64 (en voyage jusqu'en août :-)) via photopin cc


  1. Wow, that's a lot of research! I'm writing contemporary, so I haven't done real research -yet. Unless delving into soccer rules because my MC loves soccer counts. :) I hope you have a great time learning about Scotland! :)

  2. "Scotland is a big part of the characters." I love that you're putting so much Scottishness into your characters even if their stories are set mostly in England. It's so true that we all have "little" things in us that make us US. Incidentally I have Scottish blood too ... lots of it on both sides of the family ... most excitingly via an extraordinary marriage between a highland gentleman and an Irish girl at the turn of the last century! It's just one reason why I'm on tenterhooks about the results of the referendum this autumn ...