Blog posts with the tag: "Scotland"




When you start thinking about the setting for your novel, you need to decide if the location is going to be fictional, real or somewhere between the two. For instance, I set my novel in the Scottish Highlands, so I wanted it to be as authentic as possible, but the actual village and area that the story is set in is fictional and based on several different locations.

I am going to focus here on advice for using a real location as I don’t write science-fiction or fantasy and feel no real need to completely make up the setting. Choose somewhere you know well or somewhere that you love and want to passionately research. If you can, visit the place and make as many notes as you can. When I travel to new places I tend to take a camera and notepad and make notes  and observations anyway, even if my current project is not set there. You can look at pictures and maps and the history of a place online very easily, but to bring the story alive you really need to know what your setting is like from a sensory point of view. What sounds can you hear in that place? What can you smell? It is the details like these that can evoke emotions and memories of a place. I think I keep returning to Scotland in my writing because my childhood memories have made it idyllic and magical in my mind. I am also very interested in my Scottish ancestry and Scottish culture and folklore so this makes the research aspect all the more interesting for me – in fact I can get quite carried away with it. I love reading books that are set in exotic places such as in Japanese and Latin American literature. Of course to some readers, your home town might well seem exotic. Some books even influence where I go on holiday; after reading the evocative detail of New Orleans in Ann Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, I made sure I visited there on a trip to the USA.

How much research and planning you put into your novel is obviously up to you, but I like to be quite thorough and find out about the climate of my setting (is it a seasonal place, and if so what season will your story be set in) and how that will influence my character’s clothing choices and transport, food and drink, culture and customs, names and surnames, some history as well as dialect and word choices that are unique to that region. As I said in my previous post about character research, you won’t  necessarily be putting all this detail into your writing, but it can help you as a writer to imagine your setting better. You don’t want to bog your writing down with description but a sprinkling here and there can really immerse your readers in the world of your story. Close your eyes and imagine actually being there. I like to put together a scrapbook or pinboard of images related to the setting and even sometimes listen to a radio station local to that area.

There are also the interior settings that you need to consider. These spaces might define your character if it is their personal space, a bit like when you watch Through the Keyhole and try and guess who the home belongs to. Little things can give away clues about the character’s interests or past, without having to give away lots of exposition. You might describe your character’s bedroom or office. Is it tidy or a completely disorganised mess? How does that place make your character feel? If there is little natural light it might make them feel miserable. Do they have music, books or art on display? Any religious iconography? Perhaps a collection of unicorn ornaments or football paraphernalia.

The locations used in your writing might be of particular importance to your plot, such as the bus in the film Speed, or the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s The Shining. In the latter, the hotel is so fully realised that it could arguably be the antagonist of the story. The location might be important due to the kind of atmosphere you want to create, or because of the genre of book you’re writing. In Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, the fictional town of Forks in the Pacific Northwest is a perfect dwelling for vampires avoiding bright daylight as the area has heavy rainfall and is nearly always overcast. Think of how the location could enhance the conflict in your story. If you are writing a horror story, then an isolated place might help to raise the tension in your writing.
How does the setting affect your protagonist? You could ask questions to get ideas. Are they familiar with the place? Have they lived there all their life, or have they accidentally stumbled upon it, such as the children discovering Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? How do they feel being there? Comfortable and happy? Nervous? Why? What emotions or memories does the place evoke? What place do they have in the community there? If they know the setting, then where are their favourite places and why, and which areas do they go out of their way to avoid?

If you are really struggling with choosing a setting then perhaps do an exercise by planting your characters and plot into completely different places and see what works; a school, a city, a wasteland, a shopping mall, a village, a tropical island etc etc. Other factors would be the time setting of your story. Is it set in the past, present or future? If it is set in the past then you will have to do significantly more research, and you’ll have to decide how  in-depth you want it to be.


Happy writing!

Gravestone in Greyfriar's Kirk

Gravestone in Greyfriar’s Kirk


On the second day we seemed to spend a long time searching for the elusive Gallery of Modern Art, which is quite a walk away from Prince’s Street. My mum ended up asking two different people for directions while I squinted begrudgingly at my unhelpful map (I am really stubborn about asking for help and try to do everything myself, which is silly, I know). Eventually we got there and of course the first thing we did was have coffee and cheesy, herby scones with butter.


I was intent in visiting this gallery, and indeed it was the main reasoning behind my visit to Edinburgh, other than the fact that my novel is set in Scotland. The reason being because of the exhibition called Witches and Wicked Bodies (it ends November 1st though so anyone interested had better hurry). This was quite an extensive collection and showed many famous paintings that I had heard of before, such as John William Waterhouse’s exquisite The Magic Circle (indeed, one of my favourite painters; magic and myth were a constant subject of his paintings). The first few rooms showed mainly grotesque woodcuts of old naked crones with drooping breasts, wild hair and whiskered chins such as Albrecht Durer’s Die Hexe and they often lacked any feminine facial features at all, such as in Henry Fuseli’s Three Weird Sisters from Macbeth. This was the most common way in which the witches were portrayed and fuelled the belief that they were vile hags, sexual predators and that they cavorted with the devil. The only other representation of these women was the polar opposite; of radiant young beauties as depicted by Waterhouse and Frederick Sandys. My mum wondered aloud where all the paintings were of the classic witch with a pointed hat and green skin – but this was more of a twentieth century stereotype created by film studios and the commercialisation of Halloween. I suspect the movie version of The Wizard of Oz had something to do with it.


That evening, we had yummy fish and chips Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, named after William Brodie, one of  the inspirations behind Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Fantastic food served there and had the cranachan for pudding, another Scottish dish, which was delicious. Then we embarked on another underground adventure, this time visiting The Real Mary King’s Close. This was a close, like many of the others still seen today running down either side of the High Street but is now underground, along with what seemed like a labyrinthine array of rooms and corridors (the tour only took us around a small part of it, I believe, as we passed many closed-off areas). The close was covered up when the City Chambers were built over it, because when the city was walled, yet expanding, the only places they could build were up or down. We really enjoyed this tour, and although there were only a  few ghostly tales thrown in, it was interesting to hear how cramped and horrific the conditions were back then.


Greyfriar's Kirk

Greyfriar’s Kirk


A Wee Bit of Live Music


Edinburgh Cafe


A Selection of Scottish Children’s Books


Greyfriar’s Bobby


On our final day in Edinburgh, we visited Holyrood Palace (just from the outside), ate haggis yet again and had an amazing Eton mess cheesecake at the World’s End Pub, plus made our way around Greyfiar’s Kirk to see the grave and statue of little Greyfriar’s Bobby. Final stop was at the Writers’ Museum which is dedicated to the three great Scottish writers Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. Much is made of the men’s lives and travels and there are portraits and personal objects belonging to the writers.
We had a wonderful time, and I got plenty of writing inspiration. I wish we had had time to see the Mary Queen of Scots exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland, the Edinburgh Dungeons and much more, but I’m sure I’ll return to Auld Reekie soon enough.

Edinburgh from the castle

Edinburgh from the castle


Last week I was lucky enough to visit Edinburgh with my mum for a wee research trip for my novel, as well as doing some sightseeing. I have been plenty of times before but on this occasion I felt like there was a lot more on offer to see and do.


After checking in to our hotel, we visited The Scottish National Gallery to see Rodin’s The Kiss before climbing up the many steps towards the Royal Mile. En route we stopped off at the Whiski Rooms because I needed to eat some haggis, neeps and tatties. Yes, needed to. I don’t know if it’s because Scotland is in my blood, but I absolutely love Scottish cuisine. It is one of my favourites, especially in colder weather. So I ate some pretty amazing vegetarian haggis (I’m excited because I went into my local Waitrose and they sell it there) and neeps and tatties all washed down with a lovely red wine. So far so good.


The Royal Mile

The Royal Mile


Walking up the Royal Mile (slowly, because I had a food baby) we stopped to peruse some of the (many) Scottish-themed shops along the high street. I’m sure to the people who live in Edinburgh, they might be tiresome with their incessant bagpipe music and tartan everywhere the eye can see, but I find them pretty charming and I always end up stocking up on some Heather flavoured tea and having a quick glance over the tartan and info cards about my maternal family name Munro. Plus all the plush toys of Scottish Terriers and Nessies and Highland Cows are pretty cute (although the Scottie dogs did tug at my heartstrings as I lost my beloved Scottish Terrier Sweep last year to cancer). I also ended up buying the Horrible Histories Scotland book. I don’t care if they are aimed at kids – they are entertaining and I enjoyed reading the Ireland edition during my recent holiday in the Emerald Isle.


Just before you arrive at Edinburgh Castle (which up close is fascinating but never as breathtaking as when you first see it, majestically looming over the city from Castle Rock as viewed from Prince’s Street), you come to the hotel and restaurant The Witchery. I keep intending to dine there as I’m a bit of a foodie and from what I have seen from the website, the interiors are wonderfully gothic. Just opposite and quite tucked away, so I’m not sure how many people notice it, is the Witches’ Well. It is a cast iron wall fountain, which is quite small, but is there to commemorate the place where over three hundred people were burned at the stake for accusations of witchcraft. The Witchcraft Act was in force between 1563 and 1736 with well over 3,000 people throughout Scotland accused. In the 16th Century more witch were burnt at the stake at Castlehill than anywhere else in Scotland, with the victims often suffering brutal torture before being put to death.


Witches' Well

Witches’ Well



It is difficult to imagine the fear, superstition and hysteria that were experienced in those times, but if you are interested in the history of witchcraft and witch-hunts, it is well worth seeking out this small memorial of those who perished. For more information on the Scottish witch trials see here


We were lucky as two of the days we were in Edinburgh we were blessed with crisp, sunny weather, so climbing up to Edinburgh Castle was well worth it for the panoramic views of the city alone, stretching out to Arthur’s Seat and the Firth of Forth.


Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle


We explored the Castle, taking in the Crown Jewels, the Stone of Destiny, as well as the chapel and the prisons. My mum and I searched fruitlessly for the dungeons and tunnels that legend tells weave beneath the castle. I felt sure that as I child I visited them – but perhaps I am muddling this part up with another castle. If there are any deep tunnels below the castle then they are kept secret – which is no surprise really since the Castle is a military garrison and I’m sure they don’t want people sneaking in!


Heather Blanchard

Welcome. Are you a writer, a bookworm, a daydreamer? Are you still clinging on to that magic that pervaded childhood? Pull up an armchair and get cosy. This blog is my dreamscape through an enchanted forest to a world of stories and the little things that make me happy; a chance to add a dash of sparkle to the daily grind. Here you will find the whimsical, the coveted, the Gothic and the romantic. Happy exploring!

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