Sunday, 7 August 2011

Research with a Notebook: Dark Angels by Katherine Langrish

I rediscovered an old notebook the other day.  There's been a recent discussion on Terri Windling's blog 'The Drawing Board' about using good old-fashioned notebooks for scribbling down ideas for books - the advantages: low tech, cheap, versatile, and can go with you anywhere.  This particular notebook of mine illustrates that point particularly well, as it went with me into the dark depths of an extremely cramped ancient mine.  No way would I have carted an expensive electronic notepad down there! 

I'd wanted an underground sequence for parts of my 12th century medieval fantasy, 'Dark Angels' - most accounts of fairyland in that period assumed it existed underground, in hidden caves - and I wanted my hero's experience to be authentic.  No magical lights or handy phosphorescence - just a candle, and - when the candle goes out - darkness.

So I went off to Ogof Llanymynech, a Shropshire cave, and crawled in on hands and knees, accompanied by my husband and a guide from a Shropshire Mining club.  Once a hundred yards or so inside, and just before the bit where you actually had to lie down and squirm, I let the others go on, switched off my helmet light and sat in the dark for a while before turning it back on and making in situ notes:

Muddy up and down crawls with sharp and extremely gritty mud.  cold and damp with dripping water - breath forms clouds.  lots of little white drops on the slanted rock ceiling - the knock and click and tumble of scattering rocks - low rumble of distant talk in another chamber -  a low throbbing - a lost fly buzzes past, startling - you could easily get lost as it has - the distant entrance only a fuzzy patch like a tuft of grey wool - another passage - a little tuck of darkness at the side of the floor

And, heading back for the entrance -

greenish light - irregular - glitter of light on stones, the flash of water dripping - the rich green of the outside.

Notes like these are casual, immediate, and work as touchstones for the memory, reviving the experience so I can tap into it when doing the 'serious' writing. On a second trip, we did some filming, and here's the result - my new book trailer which I hope will convery some of the sinister beauty of the Shropshire landscape and legends which I tried to capture in 'Dark Angels'.


jongleuse said...

Am very impressed by making notes actually in the middle of a dark cave with a helmet light. Such a lovely, vivid description.

KMLockwood said...

That's the way to do it, as Punch would say. Live, immediate and it will inform your writing - and you're a very brave woman.

catdownunder said...

Ooohh you are brave - my fur is on end...I hate spaces like that.

Savita Kalhan said...

I love the trailer! I've spent lots of time walking in the Shropshire hills, but I'm afraid you'd never get me down a cave! Shudders. Well done you!

madwippitt said...

Finally caught up with this. Fabulous!

Stroppy Author said...

A notebook is great, isn't it? I have one currently for Vampire Dawn. It's full of stuck in bits of paper, too, with notes I wrote when I didn't have it with me. (It doesn't quite make it everywhere.)

I've currently borrowed from the library the facsimile of Bram Stoker's notes for Dracula and it's wonderful to see how the process was exactly the same 150 years ago. Keep your notebooks carefully, Kath - not only for your own later enjoyment but for future generations!

Katherine Langrish said...




These I must see.