Oology. I love the sound of that word. It slides across my tongue like luscious, cool yogurt. Oology–the study of nests and eggs–also refers to the hobby of collecting wild bird eggs. That sounds like a bizarre hobby (right up there with 'beetle fighting'), but before powerful binoculars were developed, egg collecting was a significant source of scientific data.
In the U.K., collecting of this sort is now illegal, as the hobby has lead to the endangerment and extinction of certain bird species. If you want to keep a clutch of wild bird eggs, you better have proof that they were gathered before 1954 and never intend to sell your collection. Heck, even museums don’t want them! Oology activity is also restricted heavily Stateside–considered a criminal act, in some cases. We can only hope other nations follow suit.
Imagine spending your Christmas holiday on a canal boat, floating every so slowly on waterways across the U.K. Fairy lights strung across deck. Swans paddling by. It sounds perfect to me!
Wanting to place one of my novel’s characters on a canal boat led to research about these tranquil vessels that have stood the test of time. Buoyant narrowboats originally served as a transport chain, delivering cargo from coastal ports to retailers across the U.K. Many were drawn along the shallow channels by horses strolling the towpath. Then came steam and diesel engines, putting the mellow beasts out to pasture. You can glimpse a lovely horse named Bilbo Baggins still carrying on the canal boat towpath tradition in the video below:
An extensive railway network eventually led canal boats to a new use: residential digs and holiday lettings. When housing prices peaked, people willingly settled into a spartan lifestyle on the seven-foot wide boats, permanently docked in urban-based canals. Leisure cruising can also be had on these colorful boats, bobbing along the waterways through a series of self-run locks, swing bridges, and low tunnels. Leisure narrowboats offer all the modern amenities while tugging nostalgically on our heartstrings, beckoning us to a slower-paced holiday. While I continue on my own journey to a minimalist lifestyle, I wonder if I could find serenity on a tiny, brightly-painted narrowboat. I’m more than willing to give it a try on my next visit abroad!
I faced that thick wall known as “writer’s block” for about three months. It was undeniable. Insurmountable. Dreadful. Then chance favored me with inspiration.
Ages ago, I signed up to receive various newsletters that monitor historical discoveries and the black market trade of cultural antiquities. The topic is endlessly fascinating and allows me to peek at stunning art and historical relics from around the globe. One of these newsletters is where I stumbled upon the Caratacus Gold Stater. This ancient (AD 40-41), one-of-a-kind coin was recently discovered in England by a metal detectorist. Estimated value: £50,000.
It doesn’t get more inspiring than that!
Caratacus was a tribal leader based in Wales who fought against Roman invaders. He was very successful, yet so popular that when he was finally captured, the Roman emperor spared his life and allowed him to settle in as a well-hailed guest in Rome. (Is this where the saying 'Keep your friends close, your enemies closer' comes from?)
This tiny, recently discovered relic of a coin catapulted me over that wall of writer’s block. You’ll find Caratacus gold launching murder and mayhem in my fourth novel, The Nighthawk’s Nemesis.
My fanbase knows that the police Incident Room is relocated in every Barrington Bay story. It has hopped from an abandoned fish warehouse to a shuttered bank, then to a vacant chandler shop, and now—in The Nighthawk’s Nemesis—to a disused funeral parlor.
Apropos for an All Hallows' Eve blog, don’t you think?
This newest setting for the Incident Room launched my research into funeral homes and burials which invariably led to grave robbing. Ugh! Memories of the 1945 horror film The Body Snatcher still make me shudder. The film was based upon the Burke and Hare murders undertaken in Scotland as a way of obtaining fresh corpses (and put to ink by Scotland’s author Robert Louis Stevenson). The film showcases some of classic horror’s greatest talents: Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.
Turns out that ghastly grave robbers were predominately hired by medical colleges to obtain cadavers for anatomy lessons. Students needed to practice somewhere, and the dead never complained. Their families certainly did, though! The grave robbing practice eventually led to riots by families and friends of the dearly departed. Thanks to their vocal and often violent protests, the practice was eventually banned.
Working in an abandoned funeral parlor where the unburied once festered, is it any wonder that our highly imaginative Sergeant Paul Albright has a bad case of the heebie-jeebies?
I’ve landed in the midst of the taxidermy trade while working on my next manuscript, The Nighthawk’s Nemesis. I’ve never been comfortable with specimens that fill museum dioramas or trophies in hunters’ lodges. Those glass eyes follow me about with their haunting stare, and a loud part of my being simply wants to bury the dead.
When I researched taxidermy for this manuscript, it was an absolute eye-opener. The practice, which began in England in the early 19th century, is a scientific art that is still overseen by The Guild of Taxidermy. Like the Mason’s Guild, this peer group monitors and accredits professionals within the craft. Taxidermists take multiple courses, work apprenticeships, are heavily regulated by laws, study anatomy in depth, and receive credentials based upon mastery of taxidermy skills. Some raise the craft to a form of fine art that is now displayed in high-end galleries. While the number of licensed taxidermists is decreasing, its popularity as an art form and use as modern décor is increasing.
Check out Polly Morgan Taxidermy.
Intriguing, yet icky.
I walked away from this bit of research feeling enlightened, relieved to know that a vast majority of specimens are the end result of roadkill, flying into windows, or natural death; that British laws protect even dead wild creatures; that taxidermists file formal documents on all specimens with government agencies; and that a license is required to sell any taxidermized creature save game birds shot in season. I have a much clearer view of taxidermists (no, they are not ghoulish) and a profound appreciation for their artistry.
Still, I simply want to bury the dead.
When I am not caught up in writing an exciting scene in one of my novels, I am working in an IB (international baccalaureate) school. We come thundering back to campus in early August. While many are still kicking up sand on the beach, our summer has ended. We are already back-to-school.
Every adult can still recall the excitement found in the first days of school. The smell of a new pink eraser, lining up colored pencils with never-used points that promise a rainbow of fun, placing crisp sheets of paper in glossy folders, and wearing the newest, coolest jeans. We are sluiced with the thrilling anticipation of what might just happen tomorrow. We hunger for the unknown found in each new classroom. The flip side—plenty of strangers, getting lost in the halls, sitting alone at lunch—is best forgotten; a memory we all deny yet share.
The best part about being a cozy writer is the creativity that flows across the keyboard: painting scenes in the readers’ minds, bringing imaginary characters to life, plotting out the mystery, and weaving together the threads leading to a big reveal.
The worst part about being a writer is not getting published…or is it? A friend once asked if I cry when I receive a publisher’s rejection. Ah...no. Facing that is never a good feeling, but instead of crying I reflect upon my work and then begin rewriting.
I was shocked by how much better my book became during the first rewrite. Face it—writing a full-length novel takes time. During those many, many months, we (hopefully) continue to grow by reading articles, delving into how-to manuals, listening to stern lectures, and following online suggestions to hone our skills. Year to year, I have learned an amazing amount which in turn has dramatically improved that first novel, The Stars Prevail. Trundling it out to another publisher, I’ve taken my big pink eraser to the second novel in the Barrington Bay series, The Tide Turns. Once again, the story improves with each edit. The characters are more colorful, the pacing tighter, the dialogue snappier.
Instead of losing faith in my abilities as a writer, publisher rejection has fanned my passion to become better and made me even more determined to succeed. It’s weird. It’s wonderful.
This blog is where I post my inspirations for each book in the Barrington Bay series as well as behind-the-scenes tips, pics, and other tidbits. Feel free to click 'Read More' for in-depth posts.