Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Joy of Research

My favorite part of writing fantasy novels is the research and world building. I enjoy researching the mythology and folk law on which I base the world I’m developing. I’ve used mainly Celtic mythology with a touch of Norse in my Magic Knot series. One of the most useful research books I have is The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Fairies by Anna Franklin. Another book on my reference shelf that I refer to regularly is The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures. There is a series of Element Encyclopedias covering everything from witches to secret societies—well worth checking out of the library or purchasing if you are interested in the paranormal and supernatural.

I love visiting places that I’m planning to use as settings. I combine research with vacations and my husband has got used to the fact that we always have to vacation somewhere that I plan to set a book. Before I wrote The Magic Knot, we visited Ireland; specifically the area near Dublin called the Wicklow Mountains. The area isn’t mountainous but high moorland. The area combines lush green tree-filled valleys with purple moorland. Unfortunately, when we visited the mist was so thick on the moorland that I could hardly see the road in front of our rental car.

We visited a beautiful Palladian mansion called Powerscourt near the village of Enniskerry. I recommend a visit if you are ever in the Dublin area of Ireland. The outside of the house is majestic and the gardens spectacular, with a lake featuring a fountain. Powerscourt was the inspiration for my Irish Fairy Queen’s mansion in The Magic Knot.

We also visited many sites with evidence of Celtic history. One of the most interesting was the Medieval monastic settlement of Glendalough founded in the 6th century and destroyed by English troops in 1398. There is a graveyard full of beautiful Celtic crosses.

Last summer I spent two weeks in Scotland where I managed to visit some wonderful castles while my husband watched Tom Watson lose the British Open Golf Championship by a whisker. (What an amazing man Tom Watson is!) One of the interesting things about Scottish castles and manor houses is that many are still owned and lived in by members of the nobility. This is unusual in England where I live. Here, The National Trust now owns most castles and manor houses as the original owners can’t afford to maintain the properties.

I visited Culzean Castle on the West coast of Scotland in South Ayrshire. An amazing castle perched on the cliffs above the Firth of Clyde in acres of parkland. The National Trust for Scotland owns and runs this property. The house itself is eighteenth and nineteenth century, but there has been a castle standing on the spot since the 1400s when it was known as Coif Castle.

Brodick Castle is another one cared for by The National Trust for Scotland. Although this castle has medieval origins, it is predominantly a Victorian estate in a beautiful location overlooking the Clyde estuary on the east side of the Isle of Arran.

We then travelled across Scotland to the Borderlands of the East where we had the pleasure of visiting Bowhill House, home of the 9th Duke of Buccleuch. Although the history of the estate lands goes back to the fourteenth century, the present house dates from the early 1800s.

My favorite castle from my Scottish vacation has to beFloors Castle. I get a shiver of excitement just remembering the magnificent house and beautiful grounds. I’m definitely a historic house addict. This is the home of the 10th Duke of Roxburghe and his family. The amazing thing about walking around this castle is that there are personal family photographs and items still in the rooms that the family uses when the castle is closed to the public. I love to think that this magnificent building is used as a family home rather than just being a glorified museum as so many of the historic houses are in the UK.

Although I set my stories in a contemporary fantasy world, the characters often reside in historic houses. With the UK being so rich in heritage, I can’t resist blending a touch of history with the fantasy.

For information and to read excerpts go to


Jill James said...

What wonderful research you do. I will visit a castle one day. I want to see England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. Some day!!!

JACLYN said...

HI, Helen,

Looking forward to you next book in Scotland. My uncle, George MacNair would love you. To him, there was nothing like Scotland.

He love to tell the story of how his people came to America. He laughs when he tells about how they fought in the Revolutionary War. He still has the guns, swords and relics.

On problem. They fought for the Red-Coats, Torries...LOL The family fled to Nova Scotia. But he still likes to brag. Tried to fix me up with a red-headed Scotchman. Hoping we’d get married and move to Scotland.

Ah, well. Maybe one of these days, Scotland will be next.


Dawn Marie Hamilton said...

Thanks for sharing all the wonderful places you've visited, Helen. I plan to save your links for when I get a chance to cross the pond.

Mona Risk said...

Helen, I am saving your information. Next summer we are planning a trip to England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. I would love to visit these castles.

I do the same and use my vacation to research new settings for my books. I take a lot of pictures, buy maps, read about food, clothing, family life, etc... and write notes as we discover a new place.

Joanne said...

We had the opportunity to visit Scotland a couple of years ago on a home exchange. We stayed in Glasgow, and traveled by train throughout Scotland. It was an awesome experience, and my family still says it was the best vacation ever.

And, your world-building for your novels is absolutely brilliant. Best wishes for your continued success.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

One can never see and/or visit enough castles. I simply adore walking through the ones that are still lived in and the ruins as well. One's imagination can run amuck imagining the events and happenings during its prime. Loved popping onto the sites and seeing them as well as hearing your memories. I AM going back to Scotland - it's in my genes and dreams.

Cai said...

OMG - LOVE this! Thanks for sharing, Helen!