by Sheila Connolly
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done in the name of research?
Last year I wrote about meeting an accused killer in Ireland, whose story I borrowed for Cruel Winter. We still chat regularly whenever I’m at the Skibbereen Farmers Market.
I’m still regretting that I didn’t visit the Teapot Museum when I was in Wales (alas, no time). I did, however, once tour a museum in France featuring the works of the local sculptor Pom-Pom (no, I did not make that up) who specialized in sculpting small animals in plaster. I remember lots of bunnies.
When I was doing research for my dissertation, on a medieval abbey in Angers (in France—and it’s now the city’s police station), I wanted to see the 12th-century sculptures in a nearby abandoned church. There was no one from the local museum to give me a tour, so the director handed me the keys. I had an entire church all to myself. (I did wonder whether if I fell and broke my neck, someone would come looking for me.) I also climbed the freestanding medieval bell tower accompanied by a toothless custodian with a thick accent. (I survived both.)
In pursuit of apple lore, I attended a seminar given by a national apple expert, followed by a tour of an abandoned orchard. It was very funny to see twenty or so curious adult apple-lovers grazing through the neglected (but heirloom!) trees and tasting whatever they could find, on the trees or on the ground. (Yes, I did too.) What’s more, when I made some joke about writing about murders, the tour guide promptly told me about one that had taken place on the property (a former owner had come home unexpectedly to find his wife busy in bed with someone else—wife and lover died.)
Last year I went to our local 4-H fair, where they always have a “junk” booth filled with things that people bring in, hoping to sell them (or happy just to get rid of them!). I spied a hand-cranked machine lying in pieces on the ground and spent some time trying to figure out what it was used for. I was surrounded by guys in John Deere-type hats, making wild guesses, but I was the only person who figured it out: a corn shucker.
Have I used all these factoids in a book? No, not yet, but I have a mental file of them in case I ever need one, either as a plot point or to add flavor to a story. Actually, finding potential murder weapons in relatively easy. I once purchased a collection of 50-plus vintage cooking tools because I could see so clearly how to slash someone’s throat with a curved chopper (and it’s wicked sharp!). I have a feeling that could show up sometime soon.
What about you? Writers, what have you seen that you can’t forget and want to use in a book? Readers, what have you seen described in a book that makes you want to see one yourself?
Oh, right, I have a new book (from the new Victorian Village series!) coming out on June 26th from St. Martin’s.
Find out who dies–and how!