Liz Harris Goes Wild in Wyoming
Friday 4 October 2013
Liz takes to the saddle at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.
These days, you don’t have to visit a place in order to set a book there. I couldn’t go to Ladakh, the setting for part of The Road Back, so I bought books on Ladakh, switched on the internet and in the end, I could clearly see the Ladakhi village of my hero, Kalden - a man destined by circumstances beyond his control to become a monk.
But on occasions neither books nor the internet can provide an answer, and I hit a brick wall when researching A Bargain Struck, set in Wyoming, 1887. There’s much about the 1850s and 1860s, about the Wild West and the early pioneers, but there’s little about second-generation homesteaders. Either I had to make some educated guesses or I had to drag my heat-hating husband to Wyoming.
Yup, you guessed aright – we went to Wyoming last August. And what fun it proved to be!
I travelled the same trails as my characters, albeit by air-conditioned car, not stagecoach. I breathed the air that they breathed - OK, it’s been recycled a few times since 1887, but that’s a small point - and I did the things that they did. Well, some of the things. Making the butter to go on my bread and my own soap would have been going a stage too far, I decided, and I passed on that bit.
The horse being the mode of transport on a homestead, I readily vaulted (ahem) on to a horse and galloped away, my lipstick in the horn bag, one of the wranglers at my side. A rugged, good-looking man he was, tanned from a life outdoors, with eyes of the deepest blue – but I didn’t notice any of that, I was too busy staring at the beautiful scenery.
By the end of our visit, I had my answers. I knew, for example, that an outhouse didn’t contain a porta potty de luxe, but was slung up over a hole that was filled when full, and the outhouse moved to another spot. I’d discovered that homesteads often had a second well, dug adjacent to the kitchen wall, from which water could be pumped into the kitchen. So they had running water, no less!
Yes, books and the internet are great. But nothing beats going to the place where your characters lived.