Author Jen Black is here to talk about accuracy in her story’s locations.
Researching Locations by Author Jen Black
I like researching locations for my stories. Contemporary stories in a foreign location are easily researched with tour guides, travel books and all the resources of the internet, but set the story in the past, and it’s a little bit harder. Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian locations are not too hard here in England as many of the streets and buildings are still extant, but when I made a 4 day trip to Dublin and found that the street I had set my heroine’s home on was still there I was surprised and delighted that I could walk up and down it. Why was I surprised? Because I had set my story in the eleventh century – almost a thousand years ago. (The fact that the street looked nothing like the scene I had envisaged didn’t spoil things for me. There might be fairly ordinary brick buildings there now, but the shape of the street was the same, I could see how steep it was, whether I could see the river or the sea from there, and it led to the cathedral that was being built at the time.)
Dublin was a famous Viking stronghold between 899-1200, and an ancient settlement even when the Vikings arrived, so maps of the place in those days were easy to find online and print out thanks to the many archaeological studies. I could really get to know the layout of the Viking town from the maps and they showed the development from the earliest settlement to the 1200s, which covered my period of interest. Visiting the place showed me how narrow the river is now compared to how much shallower and wider it had once been before Lord Sitric confined it and reclaimed what had been swampy, tidal land.
Setting Far After Gold in the north west of Scotland was both better, because I had spent many holidays there, and worse because there wasn’t an equivalent large settlement like Dublin.
http://www.ullapool.com/ullapool-history is a starting point for the history of the area and the latest large scale maps show where the settlements and brochs, rivers and fords once were and still are. I could describe the landscape because I’d seen it, as long as I made allowances for the changes that have taken place. Forests were much larger around the eleventh century and land was undrained and often swampy. Fords and known tracks were important for travellers and travel by sea was deemed much easier than overland. I had experienced the weather of the north west in the summer months and late October, early November; research told me which animals once lived there. We no longer have wolves in Scotland, but wolves and bears were certainly present back then.
Orkney is another of those places where research pays dividends. I’ve never been, but archaeology provides a great deal of information about dwellings, artifacts used, crops grown and where settlements were. Google Earth is fantastic for giving an author a feeling for the size of a place and the geography around it. The satellite imagery will give a very good idea of where you might beach a ship or find a way through the mountains and contour lines of maps will suggest whether you might end up in a bog or fall over a cliff face.
I discovered a fabulous website for maps held at the National Library of Scotland: http://maps.nls.uk/towns/ and used it for the two historical novels set in Edinburgh and Stirling during the mid1540s. The magnification on most of them allowed me to see individual buildings on the old High Street most clearly.
I used all of these techniques in writing ALBA IS MINE, released October 1, 2017.
In 1034, the fuse has been lit that will change the kingship of Alba. When his place in the succession is rejected, Finlay of Moray rebels against his grandfather the king and sides with half-brother Thorfinn of Orkney. With his intended bride married off to his cousin, his boyhood friend joining the opposing side and the threat of war looming, there is little happiness for Finlay. Wanting to cement the bond between them, Thorfinn badgers him to marry his beautiful sister, but Finlay, reluctant to abandon hope of his first love, grimly resists the idea. This absorbing, fast moving tale of power, greed, family rivalries and one man’s vision of the future for his troubled kingdom will keep you turning the pages into the wee small hours.
ALBA IS MINE Kindle Edition $3.11
JEN BLACK has always lived in the North East of England and currently resides in the lovely Tyne valley between Hexham and Newcastle. On a clear day she can see across Northumberland to the hills where the border with Scotland runs, and the beautiful unspoilt coastline is barely thirty minutes away by car. She has a degree in English Language & Literature and a great love of history, her dog Tim, and takes pics wherever she goes. With several book titles to her credit she is now working on EILIDH AND THE VIKING. See her blog at http://jenblackauthor.blogspot.com and find her on Twitter @JenBlackNCL.