When I went to Scotland two years ago, I ended up at Kilt Rock on Isle of Skye during a gale. This storm wasn't like the storms we have where I live. This was more like a cold, mini tropical storm (and very short-lived.) The wind blew the rain sideways. I could hardly stand upright. Fortunately the wind was blowing east instead of west or it might have blown someone off the cliff. This was something I had never experienced before (aside from the tropical storm I was in once) and hadn't expected it in a chilly place like Scotland. But now that I have experienced a gale of this type I've included the information in a couple of stories. These sorts of weather details add authenticity and flavor to a story and make the reader feel they are in your setting.
Another thing I learned from on site research is that Scotland is much cooler and chillier in midsummer than I would've imagined. I'm from the Southern US and in June we wear shorts and short sleeves (and I'm a cold natured person.) In the Scottish Highlands, we wore sweaters and jackets in several layers. It was also very cloudy, rainy and blustery much of the time.
The traditional fuel of the Scottish Highlands and Islands (and Ireland) is peat. Soggy peat moss is cut from the ground in bricks, stacked to dry and then used much like wood to burn.
Since I write stories in historical settings, I needed to know what peat smoke smelled like. My first experiment in trying to learn this fact (before I'd traveled to Scotland) was to set ablaze some of the garden variety peat moss (from Canada.) Good thing my neighbors weren't watching. They would've thought I was trying to get high on peat moss. :) I learned it smelled bitter. But nothing can compare to smelling smoke from a genuine peat fire coming out the chimney of a thatched roof cottage on Isle of Skye. It was a the Skye Museum of Island Life at Kilmuir, but that made it no less authentic. The peat bricks had been dug locally. When we picked them up they were lightweight, much like a sponge. My writer friend and I stood outside sniffing and trying to analyze the scent while laughing at ourselves. Surely everyone would think we were crazy if they knew what we were doing. But sometimes you have to do crazy things in the name of research. The good thing about that is it's usually fun too.
What kind of crazy, fun or bizarre adventures have you had in writing research?
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