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Author Topic: Research on living in a country
wbriggs
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I want to write a novel set in England, Scotland, or Ireland. Relevant background: there's an ancient evil in the land that will cause the whole island to sink if it isn't controlled. That's why I can't just set the story in the state where I live (VA isn't an island!) and it needs to be a place with a long-standing continuous civilization. The British Isles seem like a good place because they're familiar.

But not familiar enough: I have not lived there. I can take a little time to visit, find out what they've got in the grocery stores and pick up some slang, but...what I really want is to be in a British community for a short while. Lonely Planet Great Britain has for each area I look at (I'm going for rural England): Getting There, Walking, Sightseeing, Eating, Sleeping. Tourists don't do what I really want to do. They see things; I want to talk to people.

There are bunches of writers here. What might you try? Where might you look to decide what to try?

If you're in the UK, Ireland, or Iceland (Mary!)...what would be a good way to get quickly into the community? Mission trips, anything else you can think of? Especially if I could do it in January.


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Elan
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Don't forget there are islands in the USA... the Seattle area has a lot of island communities--Bainbridge Island, Orcas Island, Whidbey Island, Vashon Island etc. Or even San Juan Islands. (To come up with a list and links, just Google the words: Seattle island ferry). Sadly, I can't help you with Great Britain.

An odd resource I might recommend in your research of Great Britain are the books and videos about artist Andy Goldsworthy. Goldsworthy is from Scotland, and his art consists entirely of natural materials assembled in nature. He is inordinately conscious of the living land, and the rural countryside, and is very articulate (in the video Rivers & Tides) about that connection. If you haven't seen his stuff, you are in for a treat. Do a GOOGLE image search on his name. Our local library has the video "Rivers & Tides" and books on him and his work.

[This message has been edited by Elan (edited November 23, 2006).]


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Zoot
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Although I generally spend most of my time in London where I work, I was born in Sussex which is a fairly rural area of England and still regularly visit the place to see my parents.

Every English village has a public house, this is the lifeblood of our culture, and has been since Celtic times at least (There are pubs all over Britain named after Celtic myths i.e my Dad's local is called the Green Man)

IMHO there is no better way to integrate yourself into a local community than over a few pints.

[This message has been edited by Zoot (edited November 23, 2006).]

[This message has been edited by Zoot (edited November 23, 2006).]


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hoptoad
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I haven't been to England either. But the 'pub thing' is here in Australia too.
If a town has only one pub it is a genuinely tiny place. Most little towns have two pubs and regardless of their actual namethey usually referred to as the 'top pub' and the 'bottom pub' depending on what end of the street it's at.

quote:

over a few pints


remember the english drink their pints warm... well tepid. In Australia, the brand of beer can be an important indication as to whether you're a local or not. Zoot: Is it the same in little English towns?

The other thing to look at is the church community and it's structure.
WBRIGGS: perhaps you should watch some episodes of Little Britain

[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited November 23, 2006).]


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hoptoad
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BTW: Many -- it seems like it may be a government intiative-- English towns and counties have their own websites with community news and information mantained by locals.

I suggest you pick a town that suits your intentions and study its website. It can be painfully boring to begin with but creates a great insight as you start piecing together who is who and what's going on ie local people and dynamics.

I did this for a town called Lesmahagow in Scotland and it proved very useful -- to me.

[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited November 23, 2006).]


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wbriggs
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hoptoad, are you serious about Little Britain? I'll get it if it's relevant to rural Britain.

I think I know how to get as involved as I can at the pub . The church, hm. My impression is that the church is always closed now.


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Zoot
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Little Britain


The tepid pint thing is a myth spread by evil Antipodeans to smear their English cousin's good name

As for the brand of beer thing we do have that here. Certainly in rural areas the locals tend to drink Guiness or Ales rather than your Buds or Fosters.

[This message has been edited by Zoot (edited November 24, 2006).]


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Alethea Kontis
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I recommend a book by Toni Summers Hargis called RULES BRITTANIA: AN INSIDER'S GUIDE TO LIFE IN THE UNITED KINGDOM.

If your folks are going to be driving, you can look up the British Highway Code: http://www.highwaycode.gov.uk.

I tried to memorize that code the week before renting a car in England--one of the scariest things I've ever had to do in my life. (There's an essay about it in Apex Digest #7 called "Much Ado About Driving.")

{Edit:] You can also always turn your telly to the BBC and leave it on for a while. Soak up a bit of the pop culture, and the newer shows like Doctor Who and Torchwood (if you can get your hands on those). Catch a few episodes of Most Haunted. Let the vernacular soak in.

Isn't that how they do it in the movies? Aliens (or mermaids or whatever) watch a bit of television and suddenly they can speak English...

I love the pub culture. Pubs are a bit like very beautiful and comfortable Sports Bars that you could hang out in for hours. So you do.

[This message has been edited by Alethea Kontis (edited November 24, 2006).]


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Elan
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What is "Little Britain" about? Living here in the states, I don't recall ever seeing it on television, nor have I ever heard it talked about. Is it a comedy show? I'm gathering it must be from the smileys.

I wish there was something of the pub culture here in the states. In some areas maybe, but not where I live. The taverns in my town are scary places, and only the hard core alcoholics hang out in them. In order to get the "pub culture" you have to hang out in coffee shops. Fortunately, in bigger cities like Portland and Seattle, they are often conveniently built adjacent to book stores.


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Zoot
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Yes Little Britain is a comedy sketch show, a hugely sucessful one over here. It provoked outrage in some corners because of the characters depicted. Most memorably an over-the-top homosexual Welshman and a racist grandmother.

Ultimately it was designed to poke fun at modern British culture, albeit in a very abstract way. Not sure if would translate so well across the Atlantic though.

As for Pub culture, it's not all good however. Most crime here is alcohol related, especially in more urban areas, and we top the charts in Europe for death by sclerosis of the liver.

[This message has been edited by Zoot (edited November 24, 2006).]

[This message has been edited by Zoot (edited November 24, 2006).]

[This message has been edited by Zoot (edited November 24, 2006).]


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hoptoad
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no, not serious about Little Britain.

Depending on the era you choose I would recommend Margaret Stewart, Rose Cottage or Before Midnight (?) for a gentle take on post-war british country life.


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tchernabyelo
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I'd recommend talking to a Brit. Particularly one who's also reasonably familiar with the US so can make appropriate cultural comparisons.

I think I know where I can find one... mail me with questions and I'll see what I can do.


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wbriggs
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I'm leaning toward Outer Hebrides. It's different enough maybe the casual Brit reader won't be able to catch me in too many mistakes... it's still rural... perhaps it's the land that time forgot. Or maybe it's even more reserved. Google Earth shows it's pretty sparse.
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autumnmuse
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I have a friend who grew up on the Outer Hebrides, actually. Or one of those little islands around there. My husband is from Glasgow so we know a fair number of people on the British Isles, and have lots of living rooms to sleep in when we visit. I'll ask my husband to make sure I'm remembering right about our friend, but this person would probably be an excellent resource just in general, and he's a really nice guy. A youth pastor in Edinburgh at the moment, but he has lots of fun stories about growing up on that little island. Email me if you want more information and to be put in touch with him.

I second the watching BBC bit, and I would combine that with some online chatting before you go. Maybe hook up in advance with someone in the area you will be visiting, then meet in person while there and you have a native tour guide. I'm sure there are forums available that are mostly frequented by Brits.

And, during and after your writing, try to get a native to help critique it for believability.

Oh, and reading books written by Brits will help too. I know I learned a fair amount about the culture from reading James Herriot's veterinary books, and there are a lot of more recent things to read as well.

[This message has been edited by autumnmuse (edited November 28, 2006).]


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franc li
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I read How Green was my Valley. It talked about Welsh miners.
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tchernabyelo
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The Outer Hebrides is hugely different from "mainstream" British culture, and indeed from much Scottish culture. It is (literally) an incredibly insular society, and it's also one of the few remaining strongholds of serious old-fashioned religion - until recently, everything closed on a Sunday and even the ferries didn;t run. There were spirited protests when Caledonian MacBrayne finally decided to run Sunday ferry services.

The other option might be the Shetlands, which again is very different from the rest of the UK, and still harks significantly back to its norse roots (geographically, they're closer to Bergen than to Edinburgh, let alone to London).

If you're going to go visit those areas, you probably will be able to talk to people (especially if you explain you're an author) and get something of a feel for the local culture. Most accommodation in those places will be bed-and-breakfast, which are both very reasonable in price (quite different from American B&B) and a great way to meet people.

But under no circumstances go in winter. The weather will be lousy and you'll have three to four hours of daylight.


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hoptoad
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Isn't it the people of the Shetlands that support the Norwegian football team/s rather than the English ones?

There is a lot of idiomatic language in the Shetlands too, isn't there? That all may be very helpful building setting.

edit: spelling

[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited November 29, 2006).]


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Jenn
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Just an idea... If you're trying to tell and describe from the point of view of a local, you will very likely come a cropper (unless you read and analyse practically everything).
You might take a real outsider's view, i.e. a character from a place you're familiar with.
Or you might mingle that character's background with something you know well.
Point of view lets you play around with what has to be concrete detail and what can be slighty sloppy (e.g. a child's eye)...

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wbriggs
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Yes. My 2 POV characters are American. Still, the detail should be right.
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Elan
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It's clear that what you truly need to do is actually visit the place of your choice. I smell a field trip coming on... heh.
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RFLong
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Ideally you need to get there, if only for a short while. The problem with setting stories in the British Isles is the enormous variation in culture, and cultural background. There are traditions, stories and rivalries in these small islands that stretch back thousands of years and grudges that go back even further

Personally, I think the first thing to do is to pick a definite location and concentrate on that. If going for the Orkneys - try something like the film Local Hero (in which an American working for an oil company is sent to a remote Scottish community to buy up all their land for a refinery. It's also one of my favorite films and made a phonebox famous) or the Wicker Man (please, the original, please!)

Guidebooks help a bit. Research some local authors perhaps, to get more of a view from the ground up. The community website is a good idea. Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island gives a good outsiders view of Britain as well.

Little Britain is more urban humour. You could try Leage of Gentlemen (not the "extraordinary" gentlemen film, but the tv comedy series or even Wallace and Gromit - Curse of the Wererabbit, for a twisted view of village life. Detective series like Midsommer Murders or Miss Marple will give you the same thing (but with a higher body count).

Whew! I watch too much tv.

Another alternative might be to take several of these communities and create an island. That way the exact position of the post office might not become an issue. If you have the general feeling of the place the rest would follow.

And if you are going on a field trip, let me know!



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