(This is a reposting of one of my more popular posts on Goodreads.)
I was surprised to learn that the name of the Shetland Islands of Northern Scotland was derived from an ancient tribe of people. I had always associated the word "Shetland" with a pony
During the drafting of my novel, Exit Strategy, I invested more than 500 hours of research into numerous different aspects of the book's contents--from a single fact concerning the maximum speed limit on some east coast US highways, to the more complex psychological issues that surround a person with multiple personaliy disorder, and many more points in between. But my favorite research consisted of visiting various points of landfall contained within the book's pages, the most colorful of these being the Shetland Islands. I filled hundreds of handwritten pages with notes and my own personal descriptions of the various sights I viewed which were then easily incorporated into the manuscript wherever necessary.
In my heart, how I wished I was able to do this tour in person, but life usually denies me such opportunities. Much to my regret, the largest part of my worldly travels must be done vicariously. However, through different books and magazines, some brochures obtained from VisitScotland, and a plethora of internet sites, I managed to take off on a spellbinding journey. I am extremely grateful to the number of people who posted their personal photos and videos online for my perusal that enabled me, in a manner of speaking, to actually ride a bus across the Shetland mainland or witness a portion of Up Helly Aa.
The Shetland scenery was breathtaking. I was enamored with the towns of Scalloway, Lerwick and Brae. Armed with various maps and photos, I took walking tours over the island of Muckle Roe, was able to gaze out at the broad Atlantic or down into the sheltered harbors below the towering red cliffs. I was fascinated by the ancient Neolithic stone ruins scattered about and also the weathered remains of the 17th century castle on the bay at Scalloway. High upon my to-do list now is to read more about the Shetland Bus, a bit of history I was hitherto unaware of.
My investigations into the Isles of Cats so entranced me, I nearly felt as if I'd stayed a weekend at a little bed and breakfast in Brae, or had meandered through Commercial Street in Lerwick. I could nearly smell the ever-present greenery and the cool salt sea air. I listened to the distant baas of the sheep that populated the verdant hillsides as well as the creaks and clanks of the boats in the harbor.
Through the shared words and pictures of both residents and visitors, I was truly able to capture a small visage of this enchanted corner of the world to use in a world of my own making. I have received compliments from several readers on my accurate setting descriptions--not too shabby an achievement for this desert denizen who's barely been east of the Rocky Mountains. But should the opportunity ever present itself to visit the Shetland Islands, I would wholly embrace it. I'd like to judge for myself how near I came to reality. To quote a line from an old song, "Ain't nothing like the real thing." But some intensive research can get one close.