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?
Join the conversation here or on the Miss Demeanors Facebook page.