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Research for writing

photograph by kind permission of Dornoch Beach Wheelchairs

Mark Twain advice’s, “Write what you know” is often quoted to the aspiring writer. All very well and good but how does that fit in with all these fictional worlds that authors make their own?

They don’t physically leave the planet to explore ‘strange worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations’ as James T Kirk would have us believe. I’m also pretty sure most writers haven’t murdered their neighbours and buried them in their gardens.

We do, however, take everyday things we are familiar with and adapt them to suit. All the emotions and reactions humans go through can be used within our stories wherever they are set. It may lead to different outcomes but we can understand what drives our characters to act in a certain way.

It is other elements surrounding our characters that we often need help with. For example, coming from a small place means I can pull from that background to enhance the events that happen in my setting within Blàs. Having worked within Gaelic Development allows me to call on that experience to flavour the whole story.

Living, working, and raising my family in the Highlands of Scotland makes me familiar with the culture, traditions, language, and the way we intermingle with each other. It enables me to help my fictional village to remain authentic.

I can’t know everything that takes place here though. In-person research is the perfect excuse a writer needs to get away from their PC. To see and feel the real outside world again.

There is a line I am following about beach wheelchairs in Blàs three. I had already started on that path when I heard about Dornoch Beach Wheelchairs. Luckily I mentioned the storyline to my sister-in-law in passing. “Ah,” she said, “you do know that June is involved in that?”

Actually, I didn’t, however, I should have known to ask someone. There is a relatively small community between this end of Ross-shire and Sutherland. The population isn’t that large. I should have taken a leaf out of my fictional character Maureen’s book and considered that somewhere amongst the people I know, someone would be involved somewhere.

Connections made I found myself last week meeting up with Isla and June from Dornoch Beach Wheelchairs. I wanted to enhance the knowledge I had picked up and make sure it worked from their own experiences.

It was a bonnie day, with blue sky but deadly ice all around. Not the sort of day that was easy to walk around in never mind having to negotiate a wheelchair or any other sort of vehicle.

They kindly answered all my questions and added to the information I already had. Originally, this was going to be a small side plot within this third story about the community of Blàs. However, as I continue writing the draft I find myself increasing the importance and developing this particular theme. I fear now I may have to drop one of the main threads to give this story the importance it deserves.

There can’t be a family that doesn’t have someone within it that has challenges regarding movement of one degree or another. Whether that is from the day they are born, or due to illness, accidents, or old age, we all have a friend or relative who is affected.

Even in my fictional Blàs where one of my main characters is a wheelchair user I hadn’t addressed beach access until now. I had highlighted the right of access within the local woods but as far I was concerned every character had access to their beach. After all, they could see it from the road. But in reality, only able-body residents could access it in any meaningful way.

Thankfully as this third book is based around the sea and its shore it has allowed me to highlight a little about this. Myself, I am more on the beach in the winter months than in the summer. I love the taste of the salt on my lips and the breeze in my hair. The sound of the waves and the call of the seabirds. It makes me feel so alive. Now on Dòrnach beach thanks to such enterprising people many more people can enjoy that too.

For anyone that would like more information on Dornoch Beach Wheelchairs, you can find them on their Facebook page here.

Massive thank you to all involved.

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