Back in 2014 when I started working on a fairy tale, I built a world in my mind and transferred it onto paper. That sounds more fun than it actually was. There was a lot of map sketching, town-planning and Google searches to find out what life was like in a medieval village. At the centre of every good fairy tale is one thing. Well, two if you count a serious mental illness. There has to be a castle. In my mind, I always had a local building, Dundonald Castle, as the inspiration for Delappe Castle.
In the third edition of Cherry Lips, out later this month, a lot of things have changed. This includes the name of the town where Cerise lives. However, I’ve kept the name of the castle the same. This week, I went along to Dundonald Castle to get some photos and make some notes. I wanted to see if the vibes there would help with writing about Duncan’s holiday-home. It’s little details you pick up while researching that can make a story feel so much more authentic and bring it to life.
Dundonald Castle has a visitor’s centre. This is the first thing you’ll see when you approach the building. It has a coffee shop and a small room that displays what the castle area would have been like at different points in history, using little models. There’s two suits of armour displayed, that look quite imposing when you first walk in. I had to get a selfie with them, obviously. Along the walls are displayed large boards filled with information about the history of the castle and the area. There was a lot of reading to do and things to amuse me and that was before I even went near the castle itself.
When I first visited the castle, it was 2004 and I was newly engaged. So, I’ve always had this idea in my head that it’s a romantic place. That’s probably because of how I felt within myself. Imagine my surprise when I returned a couple of weeks ago and saw the place looked like a construction site. What’s happening is, Historic Environment Scotland and Rathmell Archaeology are carrying out a lot of excavations around the grounds, looking for… whatever they can find? I’m not entirely sure. My husband, who is studying to be an archaeologist, volunteered to help at one of the digs last week. That’s why I waited to go back and take pictures.
The castle sits quite high up, just like many Scottish castles. It was a fort, so that makes sense. There’s no moat, but I like to imagine there was. I saw a massive crack in the building the first time I visited. It always stuck in my mind. In fact, it was the inspiration for Merewald hitting the castle with one of the magic arrows from Cerise’s in the final book in the series, Waiting For Magic. I don’t know why that crack in the wall stayed with me for all these years.
Something else that featured heavily was the wooded area opposite the castle, at the back of the building, away from the town. This is where I imagined all the weird things happened, like Robin getting hit with Cerise’s clog and disappearing. I kind of mixed it up a little for the purposes of my fictional town and added in a river and a loch. And some cliffs in Waiting for Magic, because I’m a huge fan of The Princess Bride. I always like the idea of “The Cliffs of Insanity.” I wanted to have some dramatic coastline in my fairy tale.
Going back and doing extra research won’t make any difference to the plot. It has been helpful for me though, seeing the castle up close and imagining the characters walking around. I can better describe the smells and the echoes and little carvings in the walls and how the stairs are so steep that my knees started to hurt. It’s the little details that make the big difference.
Is there a local place that makes you think of fairy tales? Share it below in the comments!