Friday, October 19, 2012

The Hills are Alive with Umbrellas

I've started researching my new novel and am busily gathering notes.
I admit I'm going about it in a decidedly lazy way - beginning with journals. I've found a travel diary of William Wordsworth's sister, Dorothy, (Recollections of a Tour made in Scotland in 1803)  and am assiduously making notes.
The next book in my pile of stuff to read for background versimilitude will be Johnson's Journal of his voyage to the Hebrides with Boswell. I've read it before - but nearly ten years ago and all I really remember is a rather horrific account of a cat being skinned. I have hopes of it being crammed with useful, cunning little details.
Journals are the handiest things. Dorothy's journal is within a couple of years of my proposed story setting and already I can add details of young girls running barefoot around the highlands holding green silk umbrellas. It makes sense the highlands appeared to have had a good supply of umbrellas by 1803, but for some reason I always thought they were a later invention. A quick google tells me not.
Putting the linens out to bleach in the sun (do not mock and ask 'what sun?' there is sun in Scotland and I have the photos to prove it. I've even been sunburnt!) was also an occupation that took up much time, as was watching the cows eat. I now also have descriptions of many (usually dirty, although I'll put that down to her English bias) inns, to make use of as I will.
I also now know that most young children knew off by heart the hymn in a 'Collection' of hymns which included the hymns of Isaac Watts and that many small villages had libraries that included books such as the works of Shakespeare.
It's been strange reading Dorothy's diary - her impressions of the Leadhills and Bothwell Castle are so similar to my own it made me blink. I've visited Bothwell Castle four or five times now and it seems so strange to think it really hasn't changed much in 200 years, except back then it was surrounded in a lush flower garden. (Which Dorothy didn't much approve of, as it ruined its air of ruinous isolation) I've even been inside the little lending library in the Leadhills Dorothy writes about.
This research may not be quite as tasty as researching spices, chocolates and coffee for my Emporium series, but it is lovely to be transported back to a past Scotland through the very able pen of a Wordsworth.
And I have (yet another) debt to the Gutenberg project for their wonderful collection of out of copyright material.
Have I mentioned that I love the Internet?

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