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Sunday, 1 September 2013

Having Fun Doing Research

Research is a word that conjures up an activity that is dull and boring. It builds an image of a scholar sitting in a library pouring over dusty tomes of knowledge. Or pinning down experts in the field of whatever you’re researching, in long and boring talks. In our minds it can be linked to school, college, or university, and an activity that is enforced in able to attain the desired object, the qualification or degree, in that specific subject.

But it doesn’t have to be like that, and if you are really interested in the area you want to research, it can be exciting and stimulating.

Now, I am better known for my crime novels and, of course, like everything an author writes about, it requires a certain amount of research. But I’m not going to talk about crime research today. What I want to talk about is historical research. I can already hear the groans. No doubt there is a certain amount of study involved, books, films, TV programmes, and of course our friendly librarian.

When I wrote my historical saga, A Salt Splashed Cradle, it required a lot of research into fishing villages, fisher customs, and everything a villager might be involved with. I read a lot of books. The Peter Anson ones were particularly helpful, and I used a lot of the information in my novel.
The fisher women busy hanging out their washing

But here comes the fun bit. The village of Auchmithie, on the east coast of Scotland, holds a festival every second year. It’s called the Haar Festival, and for those of you who don’t know, haar is a sea mist or fog. The festival runs over 2 days, and it features enactments of the fisher folks lives, a form of street theatre. They act out the fisher wives doing their washing, baiting the lines for their fisher husbands, and they even have a fisher wedding. It’s all great fun, acted with great humour, and some traditional songs.
Fisher women baiting the lines

Washing the bride's feet before the wedding

The wedding party at the church with Annie Gilruth commenting on the wedding customs

There are also children’s games, but they are not modern games, they are the traditional ones. A coconut shy, cans to be knocked over, and horseshoe throwing, as well as a traditional tug of war. This culminates in the Mucklebackit race where children form teams and run a relay with a life size dummy on their back. This race is based on one of the fisher customs, a very necessary one, where the women carried their fisher husbands to the boats, so they would have dry feet when they sailed.
One of the racers in the Mucklebackit race, with the fisherman on his back
This poor fisherman has been a tad unlucky
The harbour where the Auchmithie fisher women carried their men to the boats

The festival starts with Annie Gilruth, a historic benefactor of the village, providing the narration into the historical context. She leads crowds of people between each street event, and believe me, the village is packed with spectators during this festival.
We mustn't forget Annie Gilruth who provided the commentary, ably acted by Auchmithie resident Ann Craig

So, there’s lots to learn as well as being a visual entertainment. And that’s where the fun and the research become one.

When I wrote A Salt Splashed Cradle, I had the women paddling for mussels in the mud of a tidal basin. They baited the lines, smoked their clay pipes, carried the men to the boats on their backs, and walked to the towns with their creels of fish. When one of my characters married, I made sure they danced the ‘lang reel’, although that is more common in villages further north than the one I used for my setting. But what the heck, it’s fiction. We’re allowed!

Now if you want to read the blurb about the book, here it is –

Life and Love in 1830s Scotland

When Jimmie Watt brings his new bride home his parents are horrified, because fishermen are expected to marry within their own community, and Belle is an incomer from the town across the water.
Belle, an emotionally damaged and beautiful girl, struggles to find acceptance in the village but she is fighting a losing battle, and when Jimmie leaves the fishing village to sail to the Arctic with a whaling ship, she becomes increasingly isolated.
With Jimmie gone, Belle falls for the charms of Lachlan, the Laird’s son and embarks on a tempestuous affair with him. When Jimmie returns she struggles with her feelings for him and for Lachlan.
The women in the village now regard Belle as a Jezebel who will tempt their men away. A mood of hysteria engulfs them and they turn against Belle, in an attempt to force her out of the village.
What will Belle do? And will she survive?
This historical saga is set in a Scottish fishing village in the 1830’s and reflects the living conditions and the morals of the ordinary fisher folk of that time.

Review quotes

“There is some beautiful poetic writing and the complex life of the heroine, Belle, had me gripped from the beginning. Some of the loveliest writing is in the whaling sequences -one can feel the cold - and among the whalers she creates some outstanding characters”Eileen Ramsay, novelist

“A Salt-Splashed Cradle drips with historical accuracy, and even the scenes aboard a whaling ship seem to have been recounted directly from an 1800's whaler, almost as if Chris Longmuir boarded those ships and chopped them free from the arctic ice herself”Tim Greaton

“Chris Longmuir's books so far have been mysterious, suspenseful stories concerned with some of the darker depths of human nature. So it's surprising to learn that this latest is a romance. But fans won't be disappointed. Yes, it's a romance but the murkier motives and actions are still in evidence”Bill Kirton, crime writer

“Beautifully written with deeply enchanting and well drawn protagonists, A Salt Splashed Cradle goes beyond the norms of the historical romance to bring us a story of hardship, love, wanderlust and coming of age. This was a story I did not want to end and I hope the author plans to bring another instalment of Belle's life and loves to us soon”Karen Bryant Doering