How I'm Researching the Haunted Chillingham Castle for My WIP

For my October 2017 quarterly update, I'd like to not only tell you about what I'm working on, but also give you some insight into how I go about doing said work.

If you are following my newsletter (hint, hint), then you know my current WIP (Work in Progress) is loosely based on the history of Chillingham Castle in Northumberland, England, so I'm going to tell you all about the tools and resources I'm using to build this novel so far. 

If you are like, hey what about The Binding of Saint Barbara? Don't worry, my new agent Cate Hart of Corvisiero Literary is preparing to submit it to publishers, but it's a long process so for now all we can do is wait and prepare the next book. Don't worry, I'll keep you updated. ;)

 Tools & Resources

Google Maps
If you are an author, this is one of the most amazing and least utilized tools out there. Google maps used to require you to download software, but now adays, you use this tech on your phone when you are getting directions! 

I use it to get an idea of my historical setting when it's not possible for me to visit in-person because, sorry to burst anyone's bubble, but authors are totally starving artists - especially those at the beginning of their careers, i.e., me. 

Anywho, Google maps does a couple of things that is incredibly useful:

1. Bird's Eye View
This can help you get an idea of the setting's surroundings, orientation and other little things. For example, if you know a room is on a certain part of the castle and let's say you want your character to stand in there and look at the sunset, well how do you know that part of the castle faces in the right direction for the sunset? Awwwww, now you're gettin' it.

For me, it helped me figure out that the wall fortifying Chillingham doesn't go all the way around the castle. Clearly, they were only expecting raids from one direction - Scotland.

2. In-Person or Street Views
There is a little yellow guy in Google Maps that you can grab (with your mouse) and place at a location in map where you want to see the In-Person or Street View, which basically lets you look at the location as if you were standing there yourself. It makes a big difference. 
This helped me get a feel for what it's like right outside the castle's front door. And it helped me figure out that the front door doesn't lead into the castle but into the castle courtyard. The awesome stairwell inside the courtyard leads into the castle. That's a really important fact for when I describe my heroine walking inside and I could have really easily missed it.

3. Inside Views
Okay, it's not a walking tour, but you can click on different areas of some locations to see pictures people took there. This is new tech, so right now, I can tell the locations showing up on the map with these pictures are not accurate to where the rooms are located within the castle, but someday they will perfect this, and it will be freaking glorious!

Check out Chillingham Castle via Satellite for yourself.

Classic Literature 

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Cover or 1921 Le Fantome de l’Opera
 by Gaston Leroux, 
Did you even know this started as a book? Actually, before that it was published as a serial in France from 1909-1910. I'm using this because my story has a phantom stalker probably something that comes from this story, which I explain further under "plays."

This is a classic haunted house and suspense novel written by Shirley Jackson in the 1960's, and people have compared my novel A White Room to it, so I figured it would be a good one to read in preparation for this book.

Plays and Movies Too

For me, discovering The Phantom of the Opera was a journey, and it has always stuck with me like my own little theme music. The first time I heard the music from Frank Loyd Wright's adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera for the stage was a magical moment for me as a child and as an artist. The first time was when a teacher played it in my first-grade class for reason's I do not recall, but I remember thinking it was the most beautiful music I had ever heard. However, as a child I didn't have the wherewithal to remember a title or anything to find it later. It disappeared like like smoke in the breeze. 

But then later when I was maybe between 10-12 years old, my best friend and soul-sister played it for me, explaining that her mother had played it to her. I was so excited to have rediscovered the music, I remember jumping for joy.

Shortly thereafter, her mother played the entire soundtrack for us in the car and explained the amazing story while she drove us to the mall 45 minutes away in Santa Clarita.

To finish this all off with a nice nummy cherry, a few years later, our mothers took us both to see the actual play in Los Angeles. We got to wear fancy dresses and go to a nice restaurant before heading to the theater. I remember watching that play sitting forward with wide eyes. And the seeds for a future novel were planted.

And the journey of discovering The Phantom of the Opera continues as I mentioned that I only recently learned it started as a novel.

Well I mean of course I saw the movie! Didn't you read the above, I'm practically stalking this story through space and time.

The Secret Garden
Specifically the 1993 movie version of Frances Hogdsen Burnett's The Secret Garden has been an inspiring factor in my work for a long time. This was another piece of art I first experienced as a child and it left it's mark on my creative soul. 

A lot of people don't realize it, but this is a Gothic story, even though it's not scary. The scene when Mary is sneaking through the house through secret doors and discovering parts of the house that have been closed off and consumed by nature - yeah, you might notice some similarities in my WIP.

Interestingly enough this is not a part of the story taken from Burnett's original work. This part is original to the 1993 movie directed by Agnieszka Holland. I remember this moment of the movie conjuring up such fanciful imagery in my mind of exploring an abandoned great house like that. Yeah, it's stuck with me. I just hope I have enough writing chops to recreate that sense of mystery and wonder.

Crimson Peak 
I really enjoyed this movie, and it was great to watch in preparation for this WIP. Actually, what I realized from watching it wasn't what I should do but what I shouldn't. Nothing against Guillermo del Toro's work because it's great, but it helped me realize that Gothic's have so many tropes you got to find a way to embody the genre without giving people the same exact thing again and again.

del Toro of course did a great job reinventing these cliches. The reason I came to this realization is that I saw a lot of the ideas I had for my book already happening in his movie (similar ideas at least). My point is that if you want to stand out the Gothic genre you have to dance on a very thin line between working with the genre and also being new and intriguing. Again, I hope I've got the chops. 

That's why I read a little Kelly Link too because she does dark stuff in unique and crazy ways you would never expect. Another big inspiration for me.

Gothic Novelist Leanna Renee Hieber's book Twisted Tragedy
I spoke on a panel with Leanna a couple months ago at the Historical Novel Society Conference and she writes the perfect kind of books for getting yourself into the Gothic mood!

Previous Failed Manuscripts - LOL!
You may remember last year or the year before, I tried to write a Gothic novella in one month, and I succeeded, but it was the kind of garbage that is so bad you don't even want to try to fix it. You might say this WIP is me taking another crack at it. I'm taking some of my favorite scenes from the failed MS and building off of those for certain scenes in my WIP. It's mostly the beginning stuff. The end is when everything went to the crows!

Google Books
What would I do without Google Books? Google Books is great for out-of-print, old and reference type stuff that is hard to find elsewhere. Also, sometimes new stuff too. Here are a few of the books that I found useful for research:

In-Person Research

Check out my recent visits to some creepy awesome Gothic locations like a real-world Necropolis and The Winchester Mystery House.

Official Websites
This might seem like the easiest thing, but what can I say, these were great resources for information, official history (which is important when dealing with a famous hunted house), and detailed images of my historical setting.

A unique thing, I hope to work into the story, is that Chillingham has been home to an ancient breed of white cattle for some centuries now. These wild cattle managed to escape human interference and eventually came under the protection of past castle inhabitants and today a preservation society.

Google Images
Goodness, Google should be paying for all this endorsement ;) I wish. Seriously though, another fantastic resource for description purposes.

Chillingham Courtyard

Youtube is another incredible resource for research that I don't think a lot of people consider. I used it for listening to related music, just to get that vibe, but more importantly for getting a feel for the setting inside and out. Plus, I also used it for getting a feel for the accent and dialect of Northumberland.

Phantom of the Opera Music

Chillingham Youtube Videos

Most Haunted: Chillingham Castle

Chillingham Part 1 and Chillingham Part II

Around Chillingham Castle

Northumberland Accent Youtube Videos
Accents and dialects are one of the hardest things to research for me, but Youtube is a huge help. I first did some internet research that determined the name of the accent in Alnwick, Northumberland is called Geordie. Once I had that, I could search for all kinds of things to help me get ideas for expressing this accent through my characters.

Geordie Dictionary
This video is helpful and adorable.

What resources do you use to research your work?


  1. Thanks for this insight into your process! I use Google maps in my research, too. Great tool.

    I can't wait to read this book! I'm sucker for a good gothic haunted house story (I'll be writing one at some undetermined point in the future), so this right up my alley.

    Miss you lotses!

  2. Thanks Nicole! I appreciate that and you are the perfect author to write a Gothic piece. I know that will be amazing considering your current body of work. Knowing you, you'll have it out before I even finish this one, lol! ;)

    Would love to see a post like this from you and learn more about your process! Let me know if you ever do because I would love to share it with readers here. =)

    Miss you too!!!



Post a Comment

I love your comments and questions so ask away! They won't appear right away as I have to approve them first, but I will get on it ASAP!

Popular Posts