On March ninth, almost a month ago, I posted about my upcoming book research trip to England and everything I hoped to see and do while there (March 9, Being There). I’m writing this in a comfortable British Airways Airbus 380, jetting home to the States at a ground speed of 511 mph and a relatively low altitude of 28,000 feet. Headwinds higher up, my ex-pilot husband says.
Soon we’ll be home and back in our routines. That means it’s time to reflect on the reality of the trip vs. my admittedly rose-colored dreams. What didn’t turn out as I hoped? What exceeded my expectations? Most importantly, what will make it into my manuscript?
WHAT DIDN’T TURN OUT AS I HOPED?
In a word—the weather. After a cold and dry February, England experienced the wettest March in recent memory. My husband and I tend to travel in early spring and late fall, so we never count on good weather, but we usually get it anyway, crisp sunny days and great sleeping temperatures at night. On this two-week trip, however, we had exactly one day of actual sunshine, and that was the last day—yesterday. It rained for whole days straight. Every day but the last had significant rainfall. That meant all the lovely walks I’d planned didn’t happen. We tried, donning our weather gear and toting umbrellas, but the legendary British footpaths were so slick and muddy, it just didn’t work. That was a disappointment.
WHAT EXCEEDED MY EXPECTATIONS?
The people. Maybe it was the rain, but everywhere we went, the English people were not only willing to chat but eager to engage and answer my questions. That isn’t always the case in the UK where privacy is very highly regarded indeed. I remember my Scottish grandmother’s highest compliment: “He keeps himself to himself.” On this trip, however, with everyone kind of stuck indoors, we had more than our usual share of conversations, many around a warming pub fire, with interesting people from all walks of life. We spent more time talking to people on this trip than we ever have before—from the older gentleman whose family has lived in the same country estate for more than 400 years and who asked if we’d like to see his 1927 Rolls Royce, bought new by his great-grandfather (“Yes, please!”), to the young Church of England curate who, when I had questions about Devon history, confessed to having a graduate degree in that very subject, to an interesting couple on a weekend break who shared stories from their working-class upbringings, For me, that meant a chance to listen to language and speech patterns, to gather words and phrases, and to understand the opinions and attitudes of British people from very different walks of life.
Something else exceeded my expectations on this trip, and that was Dartmoor itself, the setting for my WIP, now entitled A Collection of Lies. I’ve been to the famous British national park many times, but this time, with the ominous clouds, bleak landscapes, and rolling mists, I felt I experienced more of the legendary Dartmoor than I ever have before. Dartmoor is a wild place, a place of myths, legends, and ancient fears. Evidence of medieval villages, Anglo-Saxon farms, and Roman occupation still exists. With the help of the weather, I had no trouble at all picturing Arthur Conan Doyle’s Baskerville Hall and the fearsome Grimpen Mire. At night, made darker by the thick cloud cover, I could almost hear the baying of the Hound. It’s called imagination and inspiration.
WHAT WILL MAKE IT INTO THE BOOK?
Everything, including the weather and especially the people. My trusty black notebook is literally jammed with memories, snatches of conversations, interesting facts, and new plot ideas. Several have already made it into the manuscript. My fellow writers will understand what I mean when I say I met several of my characters in Devon—the innkeeper Yvie Innes, Detective Inspector Elijah Okoje of the Kings Abbott police, and Teddy Pearce, the newly elected MP who grew up on a Council estate in Exeter.
As I return home to write, my brain is practically thrumming with inspiration. Honestly, I wouldn’t trade my two cold, rainy weeks in England for all the sunshine in the south of France.
I got what I needed in terms of research and more—much more. Now to get it all down on paper.
Authors, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned on a research trip? How necessary is it to actually be there?
Readers, how important is the setting of a book and the atmosphere in which the plot unfolds? Do you enjoy armchair travel?
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Loved enjoying England thru your eyes. And the pictures – wow! But why does Bob look so stern in the pictures? 😊. Welcome home!
Does he?? I think it’s probably because I’m always catching him off-guard. Glad you enjoyed the photos!
Sounds like a great trip, Connie. We love those kind of encounters when we travel.
You’re right, Catherine. They are what we remember most.
I really don’t like to write any setting I haven’t experienced myself. It sounds like a delightful trip and, as a reader, I look forward to revisiting it in your next release!
I agree, Debra! Hope you like the next book!
I love rain but can understand how it might dampen (forgive me, I couldn’t resist) your writing plans. But you’re a trooper and find inspiration in what dealt you. Keep us posted on the book.
Ha! The atmosphere just seemed to fit Dartmoor. And the grass was every bit as green as Ireland.
I love new places, but hate to travel so I’m a big armchair traveler. I like writing that can really give me a sense of the place, adding details that only the residents would know.
I love that too and always hope to give my readers that sense of awe in the history of a place.
I love a painted picture of setting! I am armchair traveler for sure 9/21 we enjoyed 2 wks in Cotswolds Cornwall stayed in Hayle refurbished room cornucopia restaurant and bar. Learned to love rhubarb gin! Went to evensong Wells and Bath where ate @ famous tearoom right down from Jane Austin museum, and got to shop at Sunday street market We also enjoyed the town of cheddar and had a cheese tour and some rhubarb ice cream!-we toured many churches and wonderful ruins in the area ended our trip at Blenheim where we enjoyed a craft fair. One of our best trips ever, maybe only surpassed our 9/22 Lake Garda Vicenza and Padua. As we toured many places in Italy this was one of our favorite areas of Italy. Flying into Venice closest we got to Venice was airport!
What a fabulous trip, Pat! Evensong in one of England’s medieval churches is an experience not to be missed. Hope you have more lovely trips in the future.
I find that firsthand knowledge of my books’ locations is critical. Sounds like this trip was exactly what you needed. Welcome 🏠
I agree, and having a series set in another country does require periodic visits. We try to get to the UK at least once a year.
Looking forward to reading the new book now more than ever connie! I can’t wait to hear your stories from the curate…
Loved reading about your trip. I can imagine that the things that go wrong are more interesting than the things that go right. Happy writing!
That’s very true. We remember the interruptions, the change of plans, the mini-disasters. They make the best stories anyway.