Hag Storm is Victoria Williamson’s latest book and she found inspiration from local history. Read on for her blog about her local history and recent experiences with archaeology.
Learning from Local History
Local history has fascinated me ever since I was a child. The finale of Hag Storm is set at the Auld Kirk in Alloway where the witches gather for Halloween, but I was lucky enough to grow up in Kirkintilloch where we have our very own Auld Kirk which serves as a museum for the local community. Through my primary school years, it ran many events to encourage children to take an interest in local history, and I spent many happy hours there learning about everything from traditional wool carding, spinning and weaving techniques, to how a shoemaker shaped leather on a last, and what a Roman soldier wore at the Antonine wall running through Kirkintilloch. Judging how many newspaper clippings my mother gathered over the years of me engrossed in traditional craft techniques at the museum, I must have been a spinner or a weaver in a former life!
Authors often draw on their own life experiences to find inspiration for the characters, settings and events of their novels, but local stories can also provide a wealth of material to spark everything from historical fiction to fantasy novels. For example, my own childhood experiences of visiting my grandparents in Drumchapel and playing in Dawsholme park, and my adult experiences of teaching children whose families were seeking asylum in Scotland inspired my debut novel, The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle. Hag Storm on the other hand, was inspired not just by my experiences of learning the poetry of Robert Burns in primary school, but of visiting his birthplace museum as an adult and learning more about his life in online courses through the University of Glasgow. I’ve even written a book about two children on opposite sides of the Antonine wall – inspired no doubt by my early visits to the Auld Kirk Museum to hear all about those Roman soldiers and colour in pictures of their helmets and armour!
I’m currently studying Archaeology through the University of Aberdeen, and now that the Covid lockdown has eased, I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to join some of the local digs in my area. Falkirk Council recently ran their ‘Big Dig’ project – a ten-day dig at Milton Row in Denny run in collaboration with Archaeology Scotland. Volunteers like me got the chance to learn about topsoiling, mattocking, trowelling, and surveying techniques, as well as doing a good deal of digging to reach the foundations of the strike breakers’ houses built in 1832!
As well as the usual haul of broken china, glass, animal bones, nails and pieces of household goods, we had some interesting finds in the form of coins, a pudding boiler, and an intact ‘Virol’ bottle, which I researched and wrote about for Falkirk Council’s ‘Our Stories’ website. We also had a lot of fun at the weekend hub events run at various venues like Herbertshire Park and Zetland Park as part of Scottish Archaeology Month. While helping children discover archaeology for themselves at the test pits, I also got the chance to see Norman and medieval re-enactments, as well as traditional blacksmith techniques in action.
With such a rich source of local history to draw on, and with so many local councils and volunteers committed to finding ways to engage the community with their own heritage, writers in Scotland are spoiled for choice when it comes to topics to write about in historical novels. If you’re looking for inspiration for a local story, why not find out if your council or historical society is running any events you could get involved with, or visit your nearest museum or library to see what treasures they keep in their historical archives?
Storm Hag is published by Cranachan and is available now.