Thursday, April 28, 2016

Harmless weirdness.

Well, my search history isn't pretty. Fatal doses, famous cases, rigor mortis . . . Did you know if you Google "what neurological condition will kill a child by the age of sixteen after years of total immobility" you have to type the whole thing? Google doesn't guess the end for you.

And more and more research is done at the desk every year as more great stuff goes online. The Post Office directories are my favourite research resources. They tell you who lived where and what they did for a living in Britain between 1770-odd and 1921, when they became phone books. They're a treasure trove of names, jobs and all sorts of lore. Where else would you find out that Miss Violet Porteous ran a glovemaking factory on Causewayside and advertised her patented kid-whitening cream for 2d a pot.

If you've got nothing else to do for the next five hours: here they are:

And when you combine them with the ordnance survey maps of the same year:

You've practically moved into Miss Porteous's house and started your apprenticeship. You're welcome.

But still, I don't think I'd like to write completely from strolling about hand-in-virtual-hand with the wee orange man on Googlemaps. The sound of the wind and the smell of the sea only come from buying a plane ticket, hiring a car and getting out to listen and sniff. (If you write about Scotland and live in California, anyway.)

One thing I always do as part of research, that never struck me as weird until I told someone and saw their face is draw floorplans of every location in the story: houses, hotel rooms, shops. . . gotta have a floorplan. And it's not just my own books. I've drawn floorplans of Peter and Harriet Vane's London house, the castle in I Capture The Castle and the flat in Sherlock (after lots of pausing and rewinding).

I don't do it anymore. I don't need to. After you're finished with your five hours in the Post Office Directories, Google floorplans of fictional houses and kiss goodbye to the rest of the day. It was comforting to find out that I'm not alone in this: whether it's The Waltons or The Simpsons, The Golden Girls or the Gilmore Girls, the plans are out there.

Doesn't Carrie Bradshaw's flat have the most dead space you've ever seen?

1 comment:

Paul D. Marks said...

That's interesting about your drawing floorplans, Catriona. I used to do that too, though not in decades now. But at the time it did help me to visualize the lay of the land, so to speak, and who was where in a room, house or wherever. Now I do it in my head.