Research – a trip to Bridgetown, WA

After a few weeks’ working on short stories, it’s time to turn my attention back to my novel. Sometimes it can be hard to make abrupt shifts from one project to another, so when Blue Eyes recently suggested a short “research” trip to Bridgetown, the unofficial setting of my tale, I knew he was on to something.

We stayed in a room in the 120-year-old homestead at Ford House Retreat, Bridgetown. It’s beautiful and I wish we could have stayed more than one night. The plus side – I love the old-fashioned style and feel. The down side – now I’m thinking of writing historical fiction. How could I not with this? I’m having to be tough. Save that for next time.

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The gardens are beautiful. These were taken late afternoon so the light is low. I was here a couple of years ago in Autumn and it was stunning then, with all the changing colours. I’m told the gardens will be equally stunning in a month or so, just in time for the Festival of Country Gardens. All good information for my novel. There are more than a dozen geese running around who charge you if they think you have food – let’s just say there will be a goose in my book.

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We spent the next morning wandering up and down the main street of Bridgetown, chatting with local shop owners about living in the area. Responses ranged from “gossip travels fast” to “it’s very welcoming”. Most people we encountered were open and friendly, but a couple did give us the once-over. I’m emailing questions to a few people about life in a small country town … I just did not have the time to chat for long. One of the things that struck me was the friendly tone of notes on various shops letting people know the shop was closed or the taxi was unavailable – they were all signed with a first name. For example, the butcher left a hastily scrawled note saying he was taking a couple of days’ annual leave. It was finished: “Cheers, Kevin”. (I think it was Kevin but will claim creative licence in the event the butcher reads this.)

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The rest of the day was spent taking photos of the township (especially older houses) and random things like chimneys, as well as heading out to a winery and an alpaca farm. The winery owner, Mark, was a font of information. He described the town as “atypical” in that it’s not as small minded as some country towns he’s lived in. Check out the grounds of Sunnyhurst Winery below. He’s promised to send me an email telling me all about life in the town. As an aside, Mark’s Oaked Chardonnay is divine.

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I took loads of photos of older-style houses. Most aren’t shown here, but they have been printed and added onto an inspiration board – see the end of this post. You’ll see I have a thing for pathways as well.

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Our final stop before heading home was Levanda Grove – an alpaca and olive oil farm. The owners bought the place 20 years ago as a weekender. It quickly became their new home and livelihood.

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I’ve come home armed with loads of notes about the sights, smells and sounds of Bridgetown on a Saturday, newspapers, flyers, ideas for scenes, characters, and even more photos. It was only a flying visit, but it’s a start. My characters are moving to an area like this in search of a simpler life … and with the help of this inspiration board (and I suspect, several more visits), I hope to bring the small town atmosphere to life in my way.

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