When I write adventures set in the Scottish landscape, I always research the place I’m writing about. Caves, mountains, castles, cliffs, rivers, seashores, mazes – I’ve visited them all, to make sure that I’m describing the atmosphere and the location correctly in the book. I do this when it’s a real place (Traquair Maze, Dunvegan Castle, Smoo Cave) or when it’s an invented place (Dorry Shee forest, the village of Clovenshaws, the campsite at Taltomie, the Keystone Peak.) And yes, I know, I can’t visit an imaginary place, but I visit places like it and I create patchwork of all of them.
So, I always visit the locations. If you live there or if you go there on holiday, and you’ve read one of my books, you should be able to recognise the location, and feel like the story could really happen there.
But the one thing I hardly ever do is visit the location at the right time of year. I always seem to be writing the novel urgently at one time of the year even though the story is set at another time of year, or else I can only get to the other end of the country to research during the school holidays but the story is set in term time…
I researched the caves and cliffs of Storm Singing, which is set in the autumn, in February (and that is a COLD time of year to be on the Sutherland coast…) I researched the forests and islands of Wolf Notes, which is set in the spring, in the autumn. I researched the waterfall scene in Maze Running, which is set in the spring, on Christmas Eve. That was cold too. I researched the mountains of Rocking Horse War, which is set in the summer (so that my characters didn’t freeze) in the late autumn, when my family and I nearly did freeze.
And for First Aid for Fairies, which is set in midwinter, we visited the Ring of Brodgar in the summer holidays. Which sounds like it might be the only time I didn’t make my family shiver while researching a novel, but actually, it was windy and cold in Orkney that day and we had to shelter behind the stones to eat our sandwiches…
However, despite the shivers and the extra gloves, researching at the wrong time of year is fine for paths, rocks, walls, caves and castles, which are there all year round. But it’s not ideal for local plants, flowers and trees, which change with the seasons.
In the adventure I’m writing right now, trees are very important to one of my characters, so I really wanted to discover exactly what the trees in the right area of Scotland are like at exactly the right time of year.
Both books I’m writing this month – the teen thriller I’m editing and the adventure book I’m about a quarter of the way through writing – are set in October. And this IS October. So I’m really lucky that when I’m checking what time it gets dark in Edinburgh next week, which is when the thriller is set, I’ll just be able to look out of my window. And when I wanted to know what a birch wood in Speyside looks like during the tattie holidays, I just went up last week, and took a few photos and a lot of notes (in the rain and wind, obviously!)
So, for the first time, these books will be researched, at least partly, in not just the right season, not just the right month, but even the right week! Which I hope will make the stories even more convincing. Even if all my notebooks are a bit soggy…
Now, I’ve done the research, I’d better get on with writing the adventure!
Meg’s Widd, at exactly the right time of year!
A mysterious cave, at exactly the right time of year! (And it was raining, which is the best weather for the monster who might live here…)