Research for my homestead story

Posted on 26th March, 2017

My new story (only about 4 chapters in) came from remembering that I used to watch Alaska: The Last Frontier on TV a lot. It’s a Discovery Chanel show about the Kilcher in Alaska who live on a homestead out in the middle of nowhere. They grow all their own food, hunt for meat and build all their own buildings. I thought it would be great to put a person in the position of starting up a new homestead, and 4 chapters in, I think I know what the conflicts and problems are going to be. (But they’re under wraps for now, don’t want to give everything away, do I?)

But it’s a huge learning curve – I’ve got to learn a lot about homesteads. How exactly do you build a log cabin? What are they going to eat? How are they going to get it all? What the hell else do I need to know, that I don’t know I need to know? What is is about living on a homestead that people love so much?

Well, researching helps with all of that. There’s obviously starting points to look at. The characters (a woman called Clara and her husband Bill) are going to need water, food and shelter.  And there started my research journey. First of all came log cabins, because there’s nothing cooler to have to research in the world. I mean, who wouldn’t want a log cabin? First if all, I decided what I wanted it to look like and ended up here. It’s a website with different cabin types listed on it and with links to people who have built them, or instructions of how to build it. The one I wanted their cabin to look like doesn’t have instructions so I had to learn about other things. The post holes and foundations, which I learned about watching Alaska: The Last Frontier, how the corners work which eventually lead me to this image:


Then I had questions about the floor and found this blog type thing here and this picture:

One question simple question led to another million or so (at least, that’s how it feels) and I got all these great images out of it that I can keep going back to, it’s great!

The food issue has been in part solved by Wikipedia and finding out what kind of animals live in the type of place my characters live. Then you have to find out about their life cycle and where they are at different stages of their lives because that could change how you catch/hunt them, or even if you do at different times of year. Take the humble salmon for example. Those crazy beats swim upstream and that’s when you catch them, but when are they going upstream? That kind of information impacts the story so much, because it determines where Clara’s going to be and what she’s going to be doing at certain times of the year. The same goes for hunting game and I have to know the laws surrounding when you can hunt does and when you can’t.

The exact same thing can be said for farming. When do you plant different foods? When do you harvest them? How do you preserve them so they last throughout winter? I’m actually about to start working on an allotment growing vegetables which will go a long way to help with this. My research has so far been reading the back of seed packets. Learning about preserving it all can come a bit later when I get to that part of the story.

Every other character I’ve written can get their food from the supermarket, or pop to the corner shop for a pint of milk. Clara and Bill have to milk a cow twice a day. And a goat. They can’t pop to the shops because the nearest one is fifty odd miles away. Because of where they live, I have to know about the area and how their lives will work before I decide on the story. Normally I skirt away from research and work it in when I’m doing the second draft as it’s small things like how much does a specific item cost or whatever. This time I can’t write the story without knowing all this stuff.

It’s been kind of fun to see my list of links grow, I’ve even been reading a blog about people who are starting up their own homestead in Idaho ( Fish went to specific types of fish went to about the fish and then how to catch the fish. I had to look up moose and when they’re born, I need to learn more about bears. I had to research cows of all things for their weight. It seems like an endless task, so it’s a good job I have a general interest in this kind of thing.

For the moment, I have enough research done to be getting on with things, but there’s so much more to do I’m sure. I’ll share nuggets of it with you as I go along if I find something particularly cool or interesting and I might share my own gardening/farming experiences with you as well. Who knows, I might be able to implement a bunch of things I learn into the story!