Last week on Triberr I read another writer’s post about seven crazy things she’d done in the name of novel research. Some were so risky, I am amazed she didn’t get arrested! It made me feel somewhat better about myself. As today is St Patrick’s Day, it’s a good time to share the lessons I am learning in my own novel research.
Quick Background: I am resurrecting and updating my old “Chronicles of Mirchar” series with a Celtic identity. It is set within a solar system of seven related planets; features warriors who are several thousand years old who still work with daggers, swords and warhorses… and the whole process of putting it together between migraines has been an epic learning curve.
1. If you want to write descriptions well and understand a little more about your character’s discomforts, challenges and joys, it helps to actually own or be familiar with objects they use. For example, horse tack, daggers, swords, saddles: all the cool stuff! I went and bought a bitless bridal that hangs over my desk. Being able to handle the leather, see how non-slip reigns are constructed (and how much they would hurt your hands, gloves or not, after a few hours) is invaluable. I can’t ride for medical reasons, I had to find out somehow. Don’t let “you can’t,” get in the way!
2. If you are dealing with tricky subjects like weapons, which are frowned on in this part of the world unless you own a farm, check with Customs import rules, before you get up the sales hopes of an awesome bladesmith and fall in love with the dagger you have to have. (Sorry Jeff, I can’t get anything remotely that good here.) They don’t like untreated leather products and all kinds of things, so if using International mail, check before you get your heart broken.
3. When you see a HUGE sign that says, “Pattons Big Gun” and it is in a semi-rural area… before you drive the 14 miles back to visit the gun shop, (hoping they will have a dagger or some blade advice,) C.H.E.C.K. Google to find out what that business really does.
Here is what I saw:
If I had looked at the full signage and not the gun, I would have discovered it was a butcher. Plus… the one I went to had just gone out of business and their shop was being refitted for someone else. Epic facepalm! We couldn’t even buy dinner for our trouble.
4. Horses drool. Can someone please keep reminding me of that one? I will need that reminder when I go to the local Riding School to bombard them with equine behaviour questions. Knowing my luck, I am expecting a horse to eat my question list. ;-) Just after I’ve written down the answers too…
5. Don’t be afraid of criticism, stupid questions, or of taking pride in your work. Yes, I own a mane comb, hoof pick and bridle (they help me remember how big those animals are. I am a city dweller, I need help with proportions.) They sit in a public spot in my house where people are in and out… and we are just waiting for someone to ask if the bridle hanging off the curtain rail is actually something that would feature in a More Cowbell post. (Love your work Jenny!) No, it’s not… but it does remind me of some of the awful back braces I had to wear as a kid.
So want one!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I have found most people I have talked to (non-writers) think it’s great I am writing, doing something new despite my health and my horse-loving friends are looking at me with new light in their eyes. I have learnt to talk to my husband in a calm, confident voice, when visiting the local Saddlery. “That hoof pick is for Charlotte.” (Actually, it is, as I need to learn about what she needs. Charlotte is a 16 hands, Thoroughbred, bay coloured, brood mare; bred to Turbot, latest foal is Danae; no bit required due to horse-rider spiritual connection – I have totally got this!) I can now do things like that without feeling like an idiot and when asked by saddlery staff why no bit, I have an answer.
I have lifted saddles to test the strain they put on riders backs when saddling a horse; showed disgust at the time-saving el cheapo options for horses (no class and you don’t bond with your animal as much) and on staff request, could demonstrate a clear understanding of why I have to use saddle soap on my bridle. All in public, which normally I would cringe at… How: I have read, read, read and read. And thank God for Youtube how-to channels and a very patient husband, who still thinks I am a bit weird in public. I know she is not real… but how do you define real when you are working with characters and the horses will function as secondary characters.
If you work hard, you can hold your head up, have a great deal of fun (minus anything involving weapons) and learn things you never knew.
Now all I want is a miniature donkey as a pet. Why not? It’s research! (And a Clydesdale… ok, can I have a Scottish Claymore sword too? Plus a Celtic dagger, a complete horse grooming brush set, a Dublin Riding top, funky cowgirl boots…)
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