Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Searching for truth in a wonderful strange land

Barbara here, writing this blog in a small cabin on the western coast of Newfoundland. A full moon is shining through the spruce trees and a wide, shallow brook is swishing by a few feet from my front deck, although I am inside because there is a fierce wind sweeping off the Strait of Belle Isle and a forecast of possible frost.

I am here researching locations and details for my latest book, and am having a wonderful time hiking the shorelines and mountain trails of one of the most beautiful and remote places in the world. One of the charms and frustrations of this beautiful peninsula is that cellphone and internet coverage is very spotty. The locals laugh about it. Stand over there by that tree, m' dear, hold your phone out towards the ocean, stand on one foot, and it might work for you. This afternoon, sitting in this very same chair, I had no signal, but now the wind has died down a bit and I am getting full bars. I hope they hang around long enough for me to post this blog.

This is one of the reasons I came to Newfoundland, and to the Northern Peninsula in particular. I have visited the island several times and grew up on stories told by my Newfoundland-born father. But a writer needs more that general memories and impressions. If we are writing about a real place, we need to know the smells and sights and sounds of it. Otherwise some Newfoundlander is going to say "That girl doesn't know what she's talking about!" And more importantly, those specific details provide the vivid texture and colour that make the story come alive.

So I am photographing and writing notes on every scene along the way - the stones on the shoreline, the colour and sound of the surf, the way the boats are scattered on the shore, the ferns and moss on the forest floor, the strange, twisted tangle of the tuckamore (which makes a perfect hiding place for a frightened fugitive). Often this exploration provides plot ideas and inspiration, such as the tuckamore. Sometimes, and equally important, it provides a reality check. Oh,oh, that idea won't work because the villagers are much too nosy, or keep too sharp an eye out, or there are local AVT and hunting trails all through the area I had thought was deserted.

I am also talking to local people to get the information I need. Yesterday I spent the morning talking to a woman from canine search and rescue here on the peninsula, and tomorrow I hope to talk to fishermen and plant workers at the local shrimp centre just north of here. Later in the week I hope to talk to the local RCMP. Going to the source, like a journalist, gives me a richness of detail and a personal perspective I'd never get on Google.

Which brings me back to the internet. Today's mystery writers are constantly trying to find ways around it. Nothing more frustrating than that niggling voice in our heads that says why doesn't she just use her cellphone? Or her GPS? People are connected within an inch of their lives today, making it really difficult for writers to make them lost or in jeopardy or unable to call for back-up, etc. Dropping cellphones into puddles or draining their batteries can only work so often. My Newfoundland story requires that the characters be out of touch, or at least only sporadically able to communicate with the outside world. Hence I was thrilled to discover that large swaths are without coverage, and sometimes you had to stand on one food and hold the phone over the ocean to get any signal. I have been testing the dead zones and signal strength all the way up the coast and will continue to map it for the rest of the trip. All part of realism. I don't want any resident of the remote little village of Conche saying "Wait a minute, there's perfectly good reception here, m' dear! That girl don't know what she's talking about!"

For now, let's just see if I can send this blog.


Aline Templeton said...

It sounds wonderful, Barbara. I do the same as you when I'm researching in Galloway and it's amazing how often an idea comes right out of the landscape, like your tuckamore plant - it was the twisted roots of fallen trees for me.

Rick Blechta said...

I am so envious of your trip, lord tunderin!

Sybil Johnson said...

It looks beautiful. I am envious, also.

Barbara Fradkin said...

Every day is an adventure, for sure. Today I meant a clerk at the Harbour office who wanted me to go out on a shrimp boat to get the real flavour. Several days at sea in a 65-foot boat. Hmm. If only I had time.

Eileen Goudge said...

Wow. Gorgeous & remote. It doesn't get better than that.