14 June 2015

Research: Spilsby's Quarter Sessions & Prison

For a novelist, research comes in all shapes and sizes. For my purposes I shuffle it into three groups:
  • General - undertaken to test if an idea has legs
  • Background - for usable window-dressing
  • Pertinent – facts to feed with subtlety direct into the text to emphasise that my characters aren’t idiots
There is also a fourth – Serendipitous – where I happen to come across something interesting enough to be stored for some future reference that may never occur or, there again, may trigger the initial idea for a piece of work. In truth, serendipitous research is what novelists undertake every waking hour – keeping our eyes and ears open for something that snags our interest.

Visiting Spilsby in Lincolnshire fell into this latter category. It’s not a part of the near-country we drive through often. We were there on a genealogy trace for some of my husband’s ancestors, and a visit to nearby ruins of Bolingbroke Castle. When we’d driven in we’d passed a building so imposing that it seemed out of keeping with the nature of a small rural market town with a population of only 3,000 people.

With the church opposite locked, I decided on a closer look. It now houses the local independent theatre, and the two people tending its gardens out front took my request for information as divine intervention – or at least a good excuse for some respite from their weeding.

The theatre is the current tenant of the Quarter Sessions Courthouse dating from 1825-27, and despite its newer theatrical trappings, the original blue and gold painted ceiling still gazes down. Beyond the stage, the original cells provide surprisingly spacious single dressing rooms, and the Judge’s Rooms the bar area.

Until 1876 when it was demolished, the Courthouse fronted a House of Correction, as the accompanying gaol was referred to, which covered two acres and housed up to 80 convicts. Some were bound for prison ships and Australia, while others found themselves on one of four treadmills. The fact that a sketch-plan of the complex still existed I found fascinating.

click to enlarge

Will I be using this information in a future work? I've no idea at the moment, but it is sitting in my subconscious, being quietly nurtured. One day, probably out of the blue, the experience will connect with another and an idea will glow.

With many thanks to members of www.spilsbytheatre.com who took time out to show me round. Y’see, if you don’t ask...

6 June 2015

Writing, Reading and Research Updates

When I updated the site I intended on updating my actual writing on a somewhat regular basis. But the best laid plans of authors... Better late than never.

Pilgrims of the Pool, the final novel in the Torc of Moonlight trilogy (see 'Chillers'), continues to have pages added - not as fast as I'd like, but a decent enough amount to prove that I am now well out of the mire in which I'd written myself, or at least written the luckless Nick and Alice.

On the reading front I've finished The Shield-Maiden: A Foreworld SideQuest by husband and wife team Michael Tinker, and Linda, Pearce. And I can heartily recommend it. I know nothing about the Foreworld series, but was drawn to this novella by (a) the cover, and (b) the fact that Michael is a sword-maker and fight choreographer and the author of The Medieval Sword in the Modern World, which I intend to look up. Would his background show in the fiction? It certainly did. The battle sequence and aftermath were superb.

Over the past few weeks I've also been beta-reading works by several members of support group, Hornsea Writers, to which I belong. It's always good to scrutinize works-near-final-polish as it makes me look at my own with a keener eye. We can always be blind to our own imperfections while immediately seeing similar problems in work by others. It's a way of restabilizing self-critical faculties.

Despite being way behind schedule with my own novel, I've played hookey twice over the past month, to Horncastle and Spilsby, and to Gainsborough, both in Lincolnshire. Days out are never simply 'days out' in our house; I always have half an eye on what might pass for research for possible future projects. 

In Spilsby the local theatre is housed in a building sporting a magnificent portico and columned frontage set back from the road. It turned out to be the region's Quarter Sessions and prison complex dating from 1827. I managed to wangle my way in and an eye-opener it turned out to be. Gainsborough was a dedicated trip to see the Old Hall dating from c1460s. There the medieval kitchen complex was a revelation. 

Over the next few weeks I intend to do posts on both, with pictures. 'Follow by Email' - see bottom of the page - if you would like these to be delivered to your Inbox when they become available.