As the sweet woody scent of burned heather seeps through the house, we realise that of all the things we’ve tried in our pursuit of knowledge, this one is actually one of the least craziest.
Perhaps we should explain. We’re redrafting our plague doctor novella, The Malignant Dead, which we hope to release sometime in 2014. One of the methods the clengers used to cleanse a house after the occupants had found new homes in Greyfriars Kirkyard, was to burn heather. They believed the plague was airborne, so burning plants, herbs and brimstone were believed to prevent the plague. So we wanted to know what burned heather smelled like. We turned to Google. Google was about as helpful as an invisible map. All it came up with was ‘burned heater‘ and some woman called Heather who was burnt on a cookery show. And not because she was the main course. Technically, we didn’t have to describe the smell, but we wanted to add flavour to the scene. There was only one thing for it: we collected some dead heather from our garden, set it alight, dropped it into a bowl and stood over it like Macbeth’s witches.
That got us thinking of all the other things we have done for writing. See the funny thing with fiction is that although you can convince people to believe in things like aliens, vampires and happily ever afters, if you get a fact wrong, your readers will let you know and you’ll lose credibility. When we were teenagers, we read a lot of crime fiction, so we wrote crime fiction. We had a detective each and both wrote 7 novels with them. They were about serial killers (shock horror) and the murders were all wildly creative and gory. Don’t worry, they’ve been given life sentences and will remain imprisoned on our hard drives forever. But we wanted to know about crime. So we enrolled on adult learning courses. We have 50 credits for Law and 50 for Psychology, a Psychology A level and a self-taught Law AS level. We also took a ten week forensic science course. It was a little too sciency for us, but 2 weeks of it were dedicated to forensic pathology. We were so enraptured by the lecturer, Stephen Leadbeater, that we didn’t take a single note. Needless to say, we described the post mortems in our books in every gloriously graphic detail.
A few years later, we wrote a novel about 3 ghost hunters – fraternal male & female twins and their geeky friend who have their own internet ghost hunting show, The Other Side. The novel was called Raising the Dead and the characters actually feature in one of the short stories in Deadly Reflections. So we bought a book on haunted places in Cardiff and started visiting the places in the book. We even convinced our mum to drive out to an abandoned petrol station miles away because this book said it was haunted. She also joined us in a pitch black country lane somewhere between Caerphilly and Rudry. Then three years ago we met Ryan and Calamityville Horror was born. An internet ghost hunting show where the 3 hunters are twins and their geeky friend. We probably will never release that novel now, in case we’re accused of basing it on ourselves when the novel actually came first.
Then there are the usual things like scouring for good places to dump a body and visiting those places to see how accessible they are and how plausible it would be, taking into account whether vehicles could gain access. We always take our mum on these excursions because she is very logical and can point out errors we haven’t considered. Trust us, it’s far more fun than taking your mum shopping. Apart from that one time when we went to Garth Woods on New Year’s Day and it was 1 degree C.
Soul Asylum was the next novel to inspire us on a crazy adventure. After writing the novel and doing several redrafts, we actually decided to see if there was an asylum set in north Wales. There was – Denbigh. Full of excitement, we wanted to visit it. Then we heard there were plans to demolish it. So we decided the sane thing to do was to take an 8 hour road trip to see it. You can read the full adventure here. Basically, we left at 3 a.m., got there at 8 a.m., the gates were locked so we took a photo of it from the gates then drove to Denbigh Castle. That was closed. We drove to Ruthin Gaol. That was also closed. So we drove home. But we did have a photo for the front cover of the novel.
So setting fire to some heather is definitely not the craziest thing we’ve done for writing. If anyone has any stories of the peculiar things they’ve done in their quest for knowledge, let us know. There are bound to be great stories out there.