Researching a lost village
How do you research a place that no longer exists?
My WIP begins in a tiny Scottish coal mining village gone from existence some fifty years plus. A common enough story in Scotland. Mighty bings that once dominated the backdrop of such villages have all been removed and little remains as evidence of the hundreds of coal mining villages once dotted across the country.
Research – according to one dictionary – means the diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject. Sounds pretty dull. Not so. I’ve found the research for my WIP, a young adult crossover novel, to be anything but… Spellbound more aptly describes it – from day one.
The passion I feel for the settings and era of my novel keeps drawing me back to learn more. Sometimes I have to give myself a serious slap and close the window on research to get some actual story writing done. I can see and hear my characters and place them in the moment I’m researching. Never more so than during my recent research trip to Scotland.
I was able to confirm much of what I’d investigated previously, though I did discover a couple of my “Scottishisms” were incorrect. The matter of a few miles can change the way of referring to the simplest of things. For instance, I was calling my protagonist’s mother Mam, but in Lanark, I’m told, it should be Mum or ma or maw. Also I learned that babies are called weans in that part of the land, not bairns as they are known further east. Small details, yes, but, regardless of fiction, they must be correct.
I spent time in the local heritage centre and library going through old files and newspapers and found references bearing out my previous library, internet and personal interview research. Old ordinance maps showed the layout of the village and surrounding landscape, not to mention some very un-PC references to the nearby town Poorhouse and lunatic asylum. I was fortunate to meet with a local ranger and spent several hours with him poring over old photographs of the mining village and its inhabitants while he regaled me with stories and invaluable connections to place and time.
Travel takes us not only over the seas to new lands but into new places in the mind. Sights, smells, sounds, the mystery written in the face of a passing stranger all combine with the promise of story. As an avid writer, I was ready and open to catch them passing on the breeze. And, boy, did they come.
On the banks of the Strathclyde Loch I found the village come to life. Echoes of the past vivid in my mind and unbeknownst to me my husband snapped the photo seen here of me intent on writing a scene on the spot. I was so engrossed I didn’t even notice when it started to rain.
Most importantly, I also felt a strong emotional connection to my grandmother and her family that for me was not altogether unexpected but overwhelming in its intensity. I visited the cemetery where my grandmother’s baby sister was buried in common ground and words cannot explain the deep peace and sense of satisfaction I found in being there.
Now, on with the writing…