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Researching the environment of story
By happy accident, I discovered the way to travel interstate, overseas, inter-culturally and explore the ambience of remote towns, cities, country lanes and outback outposts. Air tickets – well that’s the ideal, but no, I used Google Earth.
It started with my trying to locate a lovely country home in West Hougham, Kent, England. It was featured in Country Life for September 7th, 2000, and was the
inspiration for my story “The Dolls’ House in the Forest”. I was fascinated by the quaintness of the architecture compared to anything out here in Oz and the size of the immense, almost regal trees forming a perfect backdrop to the house. I tried to relocate the house by doing a ‘street view’ saunter down English lanes in the vicinity. I located the area on the map and zeroed in from aerial to ‘here I am virtually walking down this street on the other side of the world the environs of which I just happen to need to explore.’
I didn’t find the house, but I had the most wonderfully inspiring time wandering down country lanes that were little more than wagon tracks, great boughs canopying overhead and wildflowers dotted in the fields…
Now, if I need to capture something of the ‘feel’ of an area. I seek out an address. Real estate notices for sale/auction/for rent are a good source, then go explore in Google Earth. Wander around that area, exploring the architecture, streetscapes, lifestyles evidenced in things as random as street art, verge gardens, bus stops, signage, graffiti, shop window decor, fences or lack of, litter, strays and the bystanders to my wanderings. Don’t forget YouTube – Example – Dingle, and with Celtic song overlay Dingle
I have also found that exploring the Realtor advertisements in the area I am exploring gives insight into the lifestyle and inhabitants of the town. Many homes give a slideshow or even a video tour online. This helps you pick up on details of life – home decor, layout, from wall hangings to cushions, scatter rugs to artwork, the placement of chairs to take in a much loved outlook, the windows and their views out, the garden. Example.
Perhaps this sounds a little bit the voyeur. It is not the intention, far from, it is seeking faithfulness in recreating a ‘feeling’ for place. It is gathering the elements of story , setting the stage, arranging a convincing backdrop to the action!
Lovely example of a virtual tour – 1893 mansion, St Georges Road, Toorak.
Another lovely virtual tour – historic “Douglas”, built in 1881, in Birchgrove, Sydney.
The tips above, of course, are beneficial to illustrators as well. Not many can afford to jet around the world on location research for images. Other ways to ‘get in the setting’ for free include YouTube clips. This is even a Youtube video clip on West Hougham, Kent. Sadly, it doesn’t feature that house…
Other ways to ‘get in the setting’ for free, besides YouTube clips, are Flickr and photographic collections held in State Libraries and on places like Pinterst. Jeff Faria recently sent me a great link to early circus posters – fascinating. Little did he know I am currently writing a story which involves Civil War period circuses in the US.
If your story requires an historical setting, you are in luck! Heritage listings in Australia and the UK are excellent.
Below are some very useful research sites for historic buildings in Australia –
Federation style dwellings lists many excellent buildings, of which Alister Brae, Pymble is an outstanding example.
Additional links are given for some residences, as in the case of “Venice”, Randwick.
The NSW Heritage database also gives excellent information. TIP: Put in the street name and the suburb to narrow your search for a particular building. Just putting in the suburb will bring all heritage listed buildings in that suburb. Putting in the street number and street will draw a blank. Putting in the property name will sometimes bring up additional material otherwise unaccessed, e.g., “Glen Rhoda”, a gothic residence in Woollahra. Using the name in the search brings up information on the existing residential property, No.71, and and an additional link to the listing for, No.67, property formerly part of the original “Glen Rhoda”.
For anyone researching Kew, Camberwell or Hawthorn buildings [mainly but not only residences] from 1860s through to 1969, this site is a must. Other Councils will have similar sites.
Open Gardens, Australia has links to various of its most notable gardens. Windyridge shows the garden in all four seasons in a map based virtual tour.
International settings – the virtual tour
Aside from a drop in to street level via Google Earth, many online sites feature virtual tours of historic settings, buildings, rambles around towns, cities and country areas. A few examples –
Eilean Donan, the iconic Scottish Castle featured on innumerable calendars, tourist brochures and used as a location in numbers of feature films [you need Java 7 to see the virtual tour on the official website] can be viewed in Youtube Clips.
The best clip of Eilean Donan, features a commentary on the Castle’s history and shows the exterior, surrounds and interior in much more detail.
Neuschwanstein [Castle that inspired the Disney fairytale castle] – site tour;
Virtual Tour of Neuschwanstein with commentary in English subtitles;
Virtual sight-seeing – contemporary and historical
A walk around Paris by video [sadly not signposted but gives a good overview of everyday life];
Tuileries, Paris surrounds, exterior, interior in brief;
Whatever the historic building or the town, you are quite likely to find a youtube clip or at least flicker photos, then there is always Google earth! Have fun!