Finding your setting… how about a castle? You could own this one for just five pounds sterling.
There’s a special energy to being surrounded by old buildings. It’s one thing to dream of my red-haired heroine who might, abstractly, have been a baker in some village on this island where now I live, back in the 18th century.
But she, her children, and her daily life leap so much more into my reality when I practice yoga in this centuries-old downstairs bakery and sit for a while, just being with these stones, put together in this wall so long ago.
The whole story grows from having even once stepped into this room and marveled at the old bread oven. Standing in front of it, staring inside at the marvel of engineering that it is, one can’t help but wonder at how hot this small space must have been, how redolent with the smells of baking bread.
Seeing the ancient timbers crumbling just where the plaster meets the stone in the corner, it’s easy to imagine strong men installing these timbers when they were new. Touching the cool, damp stones as I take my high-tech runners off so that I can step onto my yoga mat, it is easy to imagine my historical heroine pressing her hot, tired forehead against these same cool stones.
There are some things that you see, some places that you go and feel how they are, and just immediately the story happens. It might not spring, fully formed, to mind, but after you put your eyes and your body in the presence of that view, all of a sudden, that seed is planted, and, sooner or later, it grows into a story that you have to write down.
When I was staying at Orchardton Castle, volunteering my labour in exchange for room and board (and what a room! Soaring ceilings, fireplace, and this view to the sea with sheep dotting the fields), my Facebook friends thought I was somehow faking or painting that amazing soft Scottish light.
But I wasn’t.
Nor was I faking this incredible sweeping staircase – my feet will never forget this plush red carpet. Some day I will write a heroine who plays with her cat while she sits on this staircase. What is she wearing? A silk dress? Something homespun? Is she waiting for the pirate who built this house to come home? Reflecting on far-away children? Pondering business accounts?
It’s funny, when we just dream about old houses as abstract things in the past, we don’t think of all those lady characters we write sitting on the staircase. This one, however, demands it. And I know that my cat loved peeking through the banisters, so there would have to be a cat in this story, surely?
And those ceilings! I know from experience that one can sit on that staircase and let one’s eye trace the patterns over and over again. Maybe our heroine will do that while she strokes her cat, sitting on the plush carpet of the staircase. Through that door to the left that you see there is an incredible drawing room, with its wood plank flooring, enormous windows on that same view to the sea, and ceilings that recall the royal family. Throughout the house are hints to the pirate (yes, pirate!) who built it, including his heart-shaped family emblem. The servant’s staircase, which would be straight ahead here, is solid wood too, with a rope-drawn wooden elevator for carrying things up and down, out of sight of the lord and lady. This castle is forty-eight rooms of historical discovery and mystery.
And now here’s the punchline of this article – you could own this castle, yourself. The woman who owns it is actually, seriously, raffling it off. Tickets are only five pounds sterling. The draw is May 18, 2018. Enter here:
Dumfries and Galloway is a wonderful county to live in, and this castle is walking distance from the village of Auchencairn. You could own this writers’ retreat and always have room for guests (paying or not!) and friends, and all the atmosphere you could ask for to write historical Scottish novels, with or without sheep and pirates. I think the RWA ought to wint it and use it as a chapter house for us all to stay in now and then!
Postnote: If you don’t win the castle, you can still visit castles for atmosphere, of course. And read about some of them on blogs… Here’s one that’s under restoration and owned by a real-life Scottish hero who openly shares his restoration adventure on his blog (in fact, this same hero had actually bid on Orchardton Castle in the past! He was twice the runner up at auction, but he didn’t get it, so he’s restoring Balintore Castle instead.) https://balintorecastle.blogspot.fr/
The BBC offers plenty of programs that we can access on YouTube to help us dream. Some of my favourites with historical settings and information include modern people in old homes: Escape to the Country and Restoration Home; and modern people actually living and trying out old ways of life: Secrets of the Castle, Tudor Monastery Farm, Tales from the Green Valley, Victorian Farm, Victorian Pharmacy, Edwardian Farm, and Wartime Farm.