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No Passport Needed: The Magic of Digital research

Updated: Jan 31

To Wales and Back (without leaving my house)

As a writer, I'm always drawn to the quaint corners of the world, mostly the cobblestone streets of towns and villages that I've never experienced, and landscapes I've only imagined. This fascination led me to create the Sister Agatha series, set in the enchanting world of rural Wales. Interestingly, I wrote the first book without setting foot in Wales. While I missed a few nuances of Welsh culture in that debut novel, the essence of the place mostly resonated in my writing. I had managed to immerse myself in a Welsh experience without leaving my tiny office, all thanks to digital exploration– a tool indispensable for writers, particularly when our stories lead us to lands we've yet to explore in person.

The Digital Toolbox: Essential Online Tools for Writers

Imagine walking the streets of Paris or strolling through the rural countryside of Yorkshire without leaving your laptop or favorite local coffeeshop. Tools like Google Street View and interactive maps provide this very experience. They are not just windows to view the world; they are doorways through which we step into our stories' settings. To get started with an interactive map, try this map of Europe.

Websites focusing on specific cultures and local blogs are treasure troves of information. They delve into the nuances of daily life, customs, and events, providing a rich backdrop for our narratives. In my quest for the perfect setting for the Sister Agatha series, I serendipitously stumbled across a delightful discovery - an Anglican convent nestled in the heart of Wales.

The website’s gallery of photos brought the convent to life for me. Each image was a window into a world I hadn’t physically visited but felt intimately connected to. The lush green landscapes, the ancient stone walls, and the serene ambiance captured in these photographs were so evocative that they inspired me to create Gwenafwy Abbey.

The pictures allowed me to visualize the Abbey's corridors, the quaint gardens, and the peaceful cloisters. This virtual exploration provided a rich tapestry of details that I wove into the fabric of my story, bringing Gwenafwy Abbey to life in the pages of my books.

Crafting Authenticity from Afar

The key here is to blend factual research with creative license. While virtual tools give us a framework, our imagination colors in the details. For example, while the convent's online website didn't feature cloisters, a dovecote, or a refectory, the pictures that were available sparked my imagination. The pathways and gardens, captured in these images, stirred creative ideas within me, leading to the addition of these elements in my depiction.

It's fascinating how even limited visual cues can fuel a writer's creativity, enabling the construction of a more elaborate and vibrant setting for the story. about striking a balance – using real-world elements to ground our story, then weaving in fictional aspects to enhance the narrative.

Overcoming the Limitations of Virtual Exploration

Not physically visiting a location does pose challenges. There's a texture to places, a spirit, that might seem elusive from afar. This is where additional research and informed imagination become crucial. Historical texts, documentaries, and even reaching out to people who live or have lived in these locales can add layers of authenticity to our writing. Scheduled for release in 2025, my novel "Widow’s Walk" is set in a small town in coastal Maine and revolves around a church struggling with the decision to provide sanctuary to an undocumented young woman. To enhance the authenticity of this narrative, I conducted interviews with two pastors whose churches had faced similar situations. The insights gleaned from these conversations not only enriched my understanding but also invigorated my creativity, lending a layer of genuine authenticity to my writing.

Practical Exercises for Virtual Travel Writers

  • A Virtual Walkabout: Choose a location and explore it using Google Street View. Take notes on everything from the architecture to the people you 'see'. Then, write a descriptive paragraph based solely on this virtual experience.

  • Take a Cultural Deep Dive: Select a culture different from your own. Use online resources to research a specific tradition or event, and then write a short story or scene incorporating these elements.

The Adventure Awaits!

In wrapping up, remember that the digital age has opened up a world of possibilities for writers. Virtual exploration is not just about overcoming physical limitations; it's about expanding our creative horizons, about painting with a palette of the world's wonders. So, embrace these tools and let them transport you to the farthest corners of your imagination.

Happy travels – virtually, of course!


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