I am sitting in the lounge bar of the Stenness hotel on Orkney with a glass of the local brewery’s Red MacGregor (“An intensely hoppy, ruby red beer with a delicious delicate aroma and a rich, rewarding palate,” in case you wondered.) while the giant screen television is blaring on one side and three young people with local accents are carrying on a complex flirtation at the bar. I am trying to listen in on them, but honestly, it’s a lot of work, and not only because the accents are thick as Devon cream.


I am here because some of my characters have insisted on coming here, and no, I’m not going to tell you any details because that would certainly count as a spoiler. But come they do, some of them anyway, and drawn they are by the Neolithic monuments that scatter this part of the island of Mainland. (The Shetland islands to the north also have a Mainland, just to be confusing.)Â


Some things a person can write about in general terms, nudging the landscape in ways that are within the bounds of possibility. A large-scale Ordnance Survey map helps, and photographs. But for key scenes that depend on the lay of the land, boots on the ground is the only option.


If you hunt down a map of Orkney, you will see that on the western side there is a peculiar feature of a bay and a lake adjacent to each other, separated by a strip of land that looks too narrow to keep much of anything apart. But this join of land and water, fresh and salt, is where the Neolithic Orknians chose to lift up their monuments. One big circle on top of a rise, a smaller circle across the causeway, and to one side an earth mound with a tunnel that runs into the center, graced with Norse graffiti in runes (which basically say, “Magnus was here” and “Brunhilde is easy.”)


Oh yes, this is the right place for the scene I have in mind.

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  1. Anna C. on June 19, 2008 at 5:35 am

    It’s so interesting to read this! I’m a bit reluctant to venture in here, but I think that locals might say “in Orkney” rather than “on Orkney.”

  2. tangential1 on June 19, 2008 at 10:17 am

    I have to say, I’m a little perturbed by the possibility that “Brunhilde is easy” makes you think the spot is perfect for a scene 😉

    In all seriousness, though, it does sound pretty cool. And I absolutely love that you do field research for your books; makes them all the more realistic and interesting!

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