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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

12 Ways to Do Research at Highland Games

By Nicole North

If you write stories set in Scotland but can’t travel there yet, you have another option, aside from books or the internet, for learning a bit more about Scotland and Scottish clothing, traditions, foods, etc.

Highland or Scottish Games figure prominently in two of my novellas (Devil in a Kilt and Kilted Lover) and I love attending them. Hundreds of Highland Games are held each year across the country, and chances are one or more are near you. Do a search online if you've never heard of any. Aside from kilt-watching, which definitely qualifies as research, in what other ways can you do research at Games?

1. If you’re researching a particular clan and they’re in attendance, you can go to their tent and talk to members of the clan who are usually knowledgeable about that clan and their history. That’s part of the reason they’re there. They usually have books to help you as well. They might know about castles or parts of the country the clan historically inhabited. They’ll know about famous people or events of the clan.

2. If you don’t know what a sporran is, what it looks like inside, how it fastens, how it’s worn, what it feels like, etc. you can browse the ones for sale at vendors tents. The same is true for a sgian dubh, a kilt, kilt shirts, Prince Charlie jackets, etc.

3. If you’ve never eaten haggis, neeps and tatties, Forfar meat bridies, Highland pie, scones, shortbread cookies, clootie dumplin, or any other Scottish food, here is where you can sample it from those making lunch or from bake shops. Most of this food is homemade right before your eyes, and some of it isn't. So use your best judgement. (I don't recommend the haggis. But I always get Forfar meat bridies.)

4. You can listen to bagpipe music, talk to pipers, learn about bagpipes and how to play, etc. You can also listen to other types of live music from traditional to Celtic rock and then buy CDs.

5. At one Games, I saw a sword maker actually making swords. Very neat! I really wanted to ask him questions but didn’t get an opportunity. Even if swords are not being made at that moment, chances are many will be on display, either at vendors, who are selling them, or at clan tents. At one clan tent I visited, they had a replica of a sword which was important in their clan history. The original was from the 1600s. The woman gave us a lesson about how the sword was used and the different features of it.

6. At some Highland Games, vendors sell research books about Scotland--a great way to get something unique.

7. At a recent Highland Games I learned how an ancient type of kilt brooch or pin worked—the kind that holds together the top portion of the great kilt into a sash over the shoulder. I had seen pictures of them but never held one in my hand. And the man demonstrated how it worked.

8. If you’re writing about any of the traditional heavy athletics, like caber tossing, my favorite event which I included in my novella, Kilted Lover, then you can watch from the sidelines perhaps using your binoculars. And even to talk to one of the guys if you need to ask questions. They might even have a few “dummy” events so spectators can join in the fun and learn a few things.

9. You can research farm animals traditional Scottish people had, such as the hairy Highland cattle, sheep or goats. They usually have some on display and you can talk to the owners and perhaps even pet them.

10. You can browse traditional costumes, including women’s clothing, in some vendors tents. These are usually handmade by the person selling them. Ask them questions. They may know a lot about traditional clothing.

11. If you see someone selling photographs of Scotland, chances are they’ve been there and taken them. You can ask about the area of the country where a certain photo was taken and what it’s really like there. I recently did this and talked with two women, one who had just returned from Scotland and another one, with a lovely accent, who was from Scotland but now lives here in the US. They both provided interesting insights.

12. Even outside the tents and vendors, you may run into people from Scotland. Strike up a friendly conversation. Ask them where they’re from, where they grew up and what it was like. People usually enjoy talking about themselves and what they’ve experienced. That information is great research, plus it’s fascinating because it’s so different from what we experience in the US!
What about you? If you've been to Highland Games, what interesting things have you learned?
Recently I received five hearts from The Romance Studio for Kilted Lover and inspired the reviewer to want to attend Highland Games!
"I loved this story! I can't say how much I enjoyed everything about this fantastic novella. In fact I've decided to do a little research and head out to some Highland Games this summer to find my own kilted hottie. Swift action made time fly by as I read -- suddenly I was sad to say good-bye to one of the sexiest heroes I've ever met. Scott is the perfect man, he rescues a damsel in distress from two armed bad-guys after effortlessly completing the cabertoss, all while wearing a kilt! Leslie is a refreshing mixture of goddess and good girl. This author is at the top of my must-read list, I hope she provides me with an endless supply of sexy Scottish studs." ~Theresa Joseph
I also received an excellent review from Joyfully Reviewed.
"Spending time at the Scottish Games in Charleston, Leslie Livingston doesn't expect to be harassed over a necklace her grandmother had given her. But that's exactly what happens, until a tall, sexy kilt wearing Scot intercedes. While Leslie's boyfriend is off playing golf, Leslie is embarking on an adventure with Scott, the handsome Scot who ends up saving her life. Neither one wants to be attracted to the other. Leslie because she has a boyfriend and Scott because he knows she has a boyfriend and doesn't want to be the cause of a breakup. The situation brings back memories of his own horrible breakup with his fiancé. Yet fate has other plans for these two and Scott must keep Leslie alive and the necklace out of the hands of the thieves. Their one night of passion opens up new doors for Scott and Leslie, but are they willing to walk through and accept what is waiting for them?

Kilted Lover has so many wonderful elements - the sexy man in a kilt, a car chase, and hot sex. Nicole North's use of descriptive writing allowed me to easily picture in my mind what was happening and I truly wanted to be there. She did a great job putting this story on paper. I'll keep this story close at hand and look for more from Ms. North." ~Klarissa


Gail Zerrade said...

Interesting post. I didn't even know there was such a thing as Highland Games. I doubt they have them in Idaho, but I'm going to check.

Nicole North said...

Thanks, Gail! Highland Games are neat. I hope you find one near you in Idaho. Some parts of the country (probably those most populated with Scots descendants) have several Highland Games close.

Ann Lethbridge said...

Oh, Nicole, you brought back so many happy memories with your post.

My first Highland Games took place in South Uist in the Outer Hebrides. A very windy day, if I recall. The tossing of the caber had my dad itching to give it a try. Fortunately Mother applied the brakes.
Later I attended many Games with my youngest daughter. She competed in Highland Dance. Something you didn't mention in your blog, I don't think. Originally it was mostly the men who danced these dances, particularly the sword dance, and occasionally you will find a male competitor. But even if you don't, take a look at the calves of some of the older girls who dance, if you can. The muscles they build up are something to behold and you can imagine them on a male in a kilt.
I have a Scottish Regency coming out in 2011 and there will be kilts and dancing too, so I will be scurry off to some of the many games held in Ontario over the summer for my research. Thanks for the reminder of this wonderful resource.
Great post.

Nicole North said...

Thanks Ann! How neat! I'd love to attend the South Uist games. You're right, Highland Games is a great place to learn about Highland dance too. I enjoy watching the dancers. Congratulations on your Scottish Regency!

peggy said...

I enjoyed your post I never new about highland games until reading it here.peg360@hotmail.com

Nicole North said...

Thanks for checking it out, Peggy! Highland Games are fun, like a little taste of Scotland right here in the US.

Alice Audrey said...

I want to go play with a sporran!

Nicole North said...

Alice, LOL! Go for it, girl! Pick out a furry one. ;)

librarypat said...

If you have never been to the games, it is more that worth it. Depending on the size and scope of the event it can be quite an experience. If no games are close by, try a Celtic Festival. You can get some of the same experiences. If you are anywhere close to the northwest corner of North Carolina, try to make the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. I believe they are among the largest in the world. They will be July 8 to 11 this year. They have the competitions and ongoing concerts in two groves. The music runs from traditional to rock. I can't wait to go again this year.