Wednesday, November 06, 2019

IWSG November: Researching the Unimaginable . . .

Each month, the Insecure Writer's Support Group posts a question for writers to ponder and write about. This November's question: What's the strangest thing you've ever Googled in researching a story?

I've done my fair share of researching serial killers, the mafia, how quickly rigor mortis takes effect, and royal intrigue, among many other topics. Today's response is inspired by Google research about a bar in Edinburgh and about a fish that lives on the bottom of the sea.

BACKGROUND: While living in Edinburgh to research Standing Stones, we lived in a 5th floor walk-up apartment overlooking a 16th Century Writer's Museum, located in the  courtyard in Lady Stair's Close. About half a block away, on the corner, we passed by many times a very famous bar called Deacon Brodie's Tavern. Sadly, we never visited there until I began my current romantic suspense novel.

From The Seventh Tapestry

So, I'll let my hero, Neil McDonnell, art crimes investigator, describe the history of this very special tavern, as he meets with my heroine, Sandra Robertson, curator at an Edinburgh medieval arts museum, over lunch at Deacon Brodie's Tavern:
   “Ah,” said Neil. “Now, we enjoy. So, did I tell you about Deacon Brodie?” 
    Sandra shook her head, too busy with her salad to talk. The scallops, embellished with crunchy bacon and a light vinaigrette, were perfectly cooked and chilled.
    “Brodie lived in this neighborhood back in the 1700’s, a pretty well-respected cabinet maker and locksmith. At least by day. At night, he gambled. Got into debt. Turned his locksmith skills into copying keys to mansions.” Neil paused. “Rather like today. Somebody at your museum might have been tempted for some easy money. Maybe got in over his or her head with gambling, just like Brodie. ‘Tis as much a problem today as it was then.”
    He nudged his oatcake with a fork. “Anyway, Brodie continued to steal for the next twenty years, hiding in plain sight. Until he was finally discovered and then hanged. Pretty gruesome talk for lunch.” He smiled. “Did you notice the slogan on the front of the bar?”
    “No, too noisy and too many people. But it’s nice and quiet up here.”
    “Well, the slogan is one that every Scot knows. ‘In love and life I hath no fear, as I was born of Scottish blood.’”
    “‘In love and life, I have no fear.’ I like that. I think my father would like it too.”

And now a grim, little poem, inspired entirely by research! I no longer remember why I researched hagfish. Perhaps I found a mention somewhere, but here's the resulting poem.


Almost as long as my thigh bone,
she burrows into the bottom of the ocean floor.
Spineless, she circles and scavenges
her way into the bodies of the dead and dying
and eats her way out.
She sucks life through her skin;
at the same moment she swallows,
her cartilage-teeth move horizontally in and out
on two plates, and her whiskers quiver,
catfish-like, her pink skin deepens to purple,
her skull defined as if some sluggish, evolutionary
brain were trapped within,
some mindless, predestined intelligence
behind her eyespots.
She carries her eggs casually.
If caught, she covers herself with gill-clogging slime
and twists herself into knots to escape.
I would say this hagfish is a survivor,
550 million years old,
with dark lessons for us all.

May November bring you good reading and good writing!

Why not visit what other writers have written this month, for the purpose behind the Insecure Writer's Support Group  is for writers at all stages and genres to connect with each other, sharing our doubts and celebrating the writing life.

Special thanks go to November's co-hosts: Sadira Stone, Patricia Josephine, Lisa Buie-Collard, Erika Beebe, and C. Lee McKenzie!


  1. Hi,
    Now I know why I don't swim!
    I like the excerpt about Deacon Brodie. Too bad they had to hang him.
    All the best and have a lovely November.

    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Pat, and thank you for liking that excerpt! I'm hoping the story about Brodie connects to the theme of the story. May you make good memories this coming month.

  2. Great excerpt of The Seventh Tapestry, Beth. And, why did you create a poem about the hagfish? Did it come to you as you were researching and writing the bottom fish? Have a happy November as well. Mine is extremely busy again, so not sure about writing and reading much. Thanks for the wishes, though. :-)

    1. I so enjoy your travelogue, Liesbet, both pictures and commentary. Thank you for stopping by. Actually I was researching mermaids and came across the hagfish that way. Nature presents us with amazing creatures. Have a great month.

  3. I've been to Deacon Brodie's Tavern! Many years ago on my second visit to Edinburgh.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Alex. I still can't believe we were that close to Deacon Brodie's Tavern and didn't go inside -- and yet, the tavern is in my current wip. Maybe we'll all return to Edinburgh once again.

  4. Deacon Brodie seems like a great tavern. I'm curious - how did you do the research for it if you've included it in your wip but have never been in there? Love the poem, it's certainly chilling.

    1. Hello, Kalpana. Thank you for stopping by. Actually, Deacon Brodie's Tavern has a website, complete with pictures of the inside -- and a menu. One picture showed the ceiling of those tiles; another showed part of that famous Scottish saying (which I learned by further online search. More work online about Deacon Brodie revealed more of his history. Google maps helped me locate the tavern, and that's when I discovered how close the tavern was to where we once lived, and where Sandra lives in my story. Google maps has an interesting feature that allows you to look at the streets via a kind of rotating camera as well. Way easier than trying to dig this info out of a library, but what writer doesn't love libraries?

  5. My parents emigrated from Scotland to Canada. I haven't visited it since I as a teen - but I'm hoping to return one day!
    Love the poem - hoping not to run into any hagfish next time I swim!

    1. Thank you, Jemi, for visiting, reading, and commenting. We spent many summer vacations crossing Canada to go the east coast to visit family. Do you know the Canadian artist, Paul Kane? He was part of the inspiration for my third book, RIVERS OF STONE, set in 1840s Canada. Hope your writing goes well this November.