How Research Begins…


RESEARCH UPDATE: Words. Whenever I come across an interesting word, or a word that I have never encountered before, naturally I want to remember it or them.
When I first read the historical novel, THE CAMERONS, set in Scotland in the 17th or 18th century, I came across a word that I absolutely fell in love with, and, it in turn changed the course of my entire life.
The word was “moudiewart”—the archaic Scottish word for ‘mole’. To paraphrase how it was used in the novel, a young Highland woman is taking her Lowland lover to meet her family for the first time. She describes them as “Och, they’re naught but moudiewarts scrabbling underground.” Or, something to that effect. Her family were miners.
Naturally, the first thing I do when I come across a new word is to 1) make a notation and 2) look it up in the OED for more clarification.
I discovered that moudiewart wasn’t the oldest form of this fascinating word used to describe moles. The most archaic is “moldo warpo”—literally “earth thrower”. There are many variations of moudiewart: mowldiwart, mowldiwarpe, moldywarp, mowdiewart, etc. Each word sang to my heart and became the foundation for an entire mythology.
But, to get back to my original post about words. I have to share with you a few new words (and some already familiar to me) that I came across in THE OLD WAYS. Just from reading these words your imagination will flare and be fired up. And you easily see why they are now an integral part of my literary life.
1. Trods & holloways
2. The Doorway & meteor showers
3. Humans are animals and like all animals we leave tracks as we walk: signs of passage made in snow, sand, mud, grass, dew, earth, or moss. The language of hunting has a luminous word for such mark-making: “foil”. A creature’s ‘foil’ is its track.
4. Green roads, drove roads, corpse roads, trods, lets, dykes, drones, warns, snickets—say the names out loud and at speed and they become a poem or rite — holloways, bostles, shutes, driftways, lichways, ridings, halterpaths, cartways, carneys, causeways, herepaths.
5. Many regions still have their old ways, connecting place to place…
6. In the Netherlands there are ‘doodwegen’ and ‘spookwegen’ — death roads and ghost roads—which converge on medieval cemeteries.
7. Certain coffin paths in Cumbria have flat ‘resting stones’ on the uphill side, on which the bearers cold place their load, shake out tired arms and roll stiff shoulders; certain coffin paths in the west of Ireland have recessed resting stones, in the alcoves of which each mourner would place a pebble.
8. The way-marking of old paths is an esoteric lore of its own, involving cairns, grey wethers, sarsens, hoarstones, longstones, milestones, cromlechs and other guide-signs.
9. Paths are the habits of a landscape. They are acts of consensual making. It’s hard to create a footpath on your own.
10. Like sea channels that require regular dredging to stay open, paths need ‘walking’.
This will give you a taste as to how I take notes, what catches my eye and inspires a creative thought, and which words and ideas I take to my heart.
This is how I read: Carefully underlining and making notes in my notebook!


6 thoughts on “How Research Begins…

  1. jhwinterauthor

    I often hear great names for characters and write them down. I’ve got an excellent villain name for a future book and I know just the one I plan to use it in!

    On a side note, I posted a new video on my Ink & Stitches YouTube Channel on how to single crochet when making amigurumi. A character of yours that I made up a pattern for based on Otto from your Gideon & Otto books, makes an appearance. I have an even more updated version of him if you’d like to see more pictures. Come by and take a look!

    I always thought it would be amazing to make a book of amigurumi patterns based on the wonderful characters you’ve come up with throughout your Gossie & Gertie series along with all their friends. 🙂


  2. Jennifer

    The Old Ways is a marvelous, marvelous book- Robert Macfarlane there is many a wonderful turns of phrase in those pages. Have you read Holloway? Robert and and Stanley Donwood team up with words and amazing pictures of the ancient paths. Also- there is a great article where Robert describes one of his favorite book series, he mentions Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series. She captures the British Isles perfectly. To me that series. Robert’s The Old Ways, and your Ollie’s Halloween are a perfect trio to kick off the last quarter of the year.

    My children and I adore the Gossie and Gertie series, thank you so much for bringing them to life!


    • Hey there! Love THE OLD WAYS! I did my field research in Scotland, northern Scotland, the Orkney and Shetland Islands, and the Outer Hebrides in archaeology and folklore. I specialize in the origins of folk beliefs associated with ancient sites. Yes, I’ve read the writers you mention. One of my all-time favorites is F. Marion McNeil who wrote the five books that make up THE SILVER BOUGH. I love all THE DARK IS RISING quintet of books and have met Susan a number of times. Wait until you read the five volume epic heroic saga/mythology that I am writing titled: THE LAY OF MOEL EYRIS: The Saga of the Bear’s Son. It is a distillation of my lifetime of research in the ancient ways and beliefs. I am happy to hear that your children like the Gossie & Friends books! I’m working on PEARL and PEAR’S LOST PEARLS at the moment—she is the 13th gosling to round out the gaggle.


  3. Jennifer

    Hit send too soon. Have you read or experienced Robert’s latest, The Lost Words? I believe it is tied in with a petition to keep nature words in the dictionary as they are on the chopping block.


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