Here's a delightful essay by T. J. Wooldridge about the phases of research she went through for her middle grade novel The Kelpie. Makes me want to go to Scotland!
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When Magick happens Outside the Pages...
by T. J. Wooldridge
It started at my friends' art studio. I'd taken a weekend away from home and dedicated it to my current Work In Progress, The Kelpie. I was about a third of the way through the book and I found myself getting lost in the castle I'd created for my characters to live in. The bout of writer's block was caused by a lack of information, so I went to remedy it by researching castles in Scotland and Scottish castles people might still live in.
Of course, being me, I also wanted to know if the area of Scotland I was imagining might even have castles and such. I knew just about enough about Scottish geography to know I didn't know close to what I needed to know. (Hopefully that makes sense?)
But I had a picture in my head, as clear as anything, and I knew driving directions and how long I'd figured it took my characters to get to various places. So, on one set of tabs, I was pulling up castles and inhabited castles in Scotland and using copious amounts my very generous friends' printer paper and ink. In another set of tabs, I was playing on Google Maps.
Come to find out, the place in my head really existed. There happens to be an area on the eastern coast of the Scottish Borders (the area bordering England) that's an hour's drive east of Edinburgh, has a whole lot of land, is near tourist and fishing villages, and... wait for it... actually has ruins of an ancient castle. The location of my characters' castle fit perfectly where there currently exists a farm. That you have to hike through and by to get to aforementioned actual castle ruins.
Only an hour's drive away from that area was this other lovely place, the Traquair House, or, the Oldest Inhabited House in Scotland. Which looks like a castle. It's AWESOME!
I went home from that weekend with my friends with folders of research and drawings and maps and other fun research. As well as a wish to go to Scotland and explore for myself.
Some year or so later, my husband was called to work overseas for his job for a whole year. We decided to plan his vacations of places we could meet that we wouldn't normally have a chance to visit otherwise. Of course, I had to insist we go to Scotland. (It didn't require a lot of insistence; Scotland is where they make Scotch, and my husband is as much a fan of hiking and ruins as I am.)
Organizing the vacation was left to me, so we would spend half of it in the area my novel would take place. Including a luxurious stay at Traquair House.
The Traquair House--besides providing me with an authentic Victorian princess-like bed to sleep on and an antique desk where I handwrote several postcards in fountain pen--also had actual secret passages and a fabulous history Hiding Important People during various wars. It also had a full-sized hedge maze and many hiking paths and abutted a nature preserve: all details I'd figured into my book before I knew this place even existed! On top of that, I got to interview the 21st Lady of Traquair about living in a historic home. I was already in editing stage at this point with my publisher, so I was quite relieved to find out how little I'd have to change. I'd gotten almost all my assumptions and guesses about things correct!
And then came visiting the actual area where I'd place my MacArthur family castle. We stayed at another beautiful bed and breakfast and picked our hosts' brains about what might, in fact, happen if tourist children and local children started going missing, and there were bodies. (I assured them many times that this was for a novel! Hazards of interview-based research...) There was little I had to change based on these interviews, too.
Then, finally, finally, we got to hike along the nature preserve and we sought out the castle ruins. (Locals frequently tell tourists not to go out there because it is a somewhat dangerous hike with more than a few cliff-edges right over the water.) Besides being teary-eyed and entranced the whole hike and thinking, "Oh my God! I'm IN MY OWN BOOK!", I was looking for any more details I could add to make things more authentic. There were only a few, but they counted and I added them in: there's a man-made staircase of wood and packed earth for a particularly difficult and wet descent, mist is constantly rolling in and out even in June, there is a Hitchcock-ian amount of birds who all nest on the cliffs during June... and I severely underestimated the amount of sheep poop involved.
All of those were easy fixes. But I'm still in awe at how much the actual location, the facts, and everything else that I'm quite sure I never knew prior happened to be real. It really was like magick to write... and it was magickal--and a little scary--to experience what lived in my head to explode into real life I could see, touch, feel, taste (yay, haggis!)... and smell (not-so-yay on the sheep poop.)
In speaking with other writers, this isn't all that unusual an experience, either! Other writers get shocked when things they "make up" turn out to be real... so, perhaps there is a little bit of something magick that's clicked on in a writer's mind.
Have you experienced any magick in your work that's leaked from the pages and your brain into real life?
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by T. J. Woolridge
I can't honestly say I was joking when I suggested to my best friend, Joe – Prince Joseph, eldest son of England's Crown Prince – that we could probably find something the police had missed in regards to the missing children. After all, eleven and twelve year olds like us did that all the time on the telly and in the books we read…
When Heather and Joe decide to be Sleuthy MacSleuths on the property abutting the castle Heather's family lives in, neither expected to discover the real reason children were going missing:
A Kelpie. A child-eating faerie horse had moved into the loch "next door."
The two barely escape with their lives, but they aren't safe. Caught in a storm of faerie power, Heather, Joe, and Heather's whole family are pulled into a maze of talking cats, ghostly secrets, and powerful magick.
With another child taken, time is running out to make things right.
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Learn more about T. J. Woolridge on her website.