As a fan of Regency historicals and English mysteries, the books I read tend to be set in and around the English countryside. Having been born and raised in suburban California, with cookie-cutter houses set side by side in uniform rows, it can be a little difficult for me to visualize some of those settings, especially for stories that rely on the layout of a house or village as a plot point.
Having spent a fair amount of time in London and slightly less time around Oxford and the Cotswolds, I can picture some things, but houses and estates and the like aren’t always clear to me, based on the author’s descriptions.
Fortunately, the internet has come to my rescue via the UK’s Country Life magazine. I’ve purchased electronic copies of the magazine from Amazon from time to time–always taken in by a great headline and cover photo, only to find myself wading through virtual page after page of real estate listings for properties far outside my purchasing power or interest, before getting to the actual articles I bought the magazine for.
Recently, however, posts from County Living have been popping up in my Facebook feed, so I’ve been clicking the links and giving the properties a closer look. The picture at the top of the post is a property that popped up a few days back and seemed to fit a description in the book I was reading to a T. Spatial visualization has never been my strong suit–which made geometry classes a real challenge many years ago–but the online listings that let me “virtually” walk through rooms are very helpful as I visualize how the book characters would move about the house (possibly ducking under some of those low ceilings).
The properties often crack me up though–not because of what they look like, but because of the amount of land and gardens and out-buildings that are often included in the listings. Coming from the land of the 1,200 square-foot house on about a 1/10th of acre lot, listings for 5,000+ square-foot houses on huge swaths of land that require a little map to show the full scope are a bit mind-boggling. I can’t help but think about the effort upkeep would entail (and cost).
Ignoring pesky details like that, the property photos have been very helpful as I try to understand why “the neighbor didn’t hear the cry for help” (they were several acres away) or exactly what that “former stable turned into an artist’s studio” might look like (dramatic). It’s also given me a feel for what it might be like to live in an area where there wasn’t a Starbucks right down the street or a bustling city center right across the highway.
I may be experiencing a bit of property envy.
Now that I have a better feel for what houses and settings might generally look like in the books I’m reading, I’m looking for houses and geographic settings to incorporate into my Regency romance that has been tucked away in a drawer since it was first completed.
Really, it’s not just an excuse to surf real estate websites.
So, has your writing research taken you down any entertaining paths lately?
A particularly fun kind of research (although actually visiting these places would be even more fun).
My current WIP has several scenes set at the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan. There are diagrams of grounds and room layouts available on their website. Also, YouTube videos people giving tours but Ithere are still a number of things I need to know but don’t–are there windows in the lobby outside the General Assembly Hall? What does the walk from the Assembly Hall to the Delegates Lounge look like.
I wish I could convince my husband that a trip to NYC is called for.
I can see a whole new career opening up: hiring people to walk-through/video tape a specific location for authors who are trying to get a feel for a space 🙂
Of course, convincing your husband that a trip to NYC is called for would be far more fun.
I sometimes watch a UK real estate show called “Escape to the Country” where urbanites go around and look at houses out in the, well, country. There’s a lot of things I don’t understand on this show. For starters, I think of a “cottage” as a shack on a lake, possibly with no plumbing or electricity. Or plumbing and electricity, but small and shabby and seasonal. In “Escape to the Country,” the “cottages” look like “manor houses” to me. What defines a cottage? And then, the UK shoppers go into kitchens that look as big as football fields to me and say, “well, it’s nice, but it’s small.” What do people do in their kitchens? Of course, in the US, people remodel for bigger and more fabulous kitchens, even though they spend less and less time in them, mostly going out for meals (pre-pandemic, anyway) or having them delivered. But I love “Escape to the Country.” All the cottages are great. 🙂 And they show an architectural drawing of the house, so you don’t get confused. Excellent for research purposes.
I will definitely have to look that show up, Kay. I too have been confused by the definition of “cottage” (see “Honeysuckle Cottage picture in this post – looks like a big house to me) and would love to see the architectural drawings.
Beach houses. One of my stories has quite a bit of time spent at one. I love the beach and would love to live at a beach. So weekend homes is my weakness when doing “research.”