via How to Research a Location You Haven’t Actually Been To
This blog post above by fellow writer, Helena Fairfax, has been wonderfully helpful to me in writing my novel set in India and on a ship in the Pacific and Indian oceans. As an example, I wrote a scene in the book of slaughtering a sea turtle for eating aboard ship after watching a YouTube by today’s Aboriginal Australians.
Read the scene below from my book in-progress, Salwar Kameez. I’ve added a few notes to the reader to be able to grasp who the characters are in the scene, because it is out of context for you.
SCENE from BOOK on Butchering a Sea Turtle
Next morning the cook, Paddy approached the aquatic turtles in the livestock watering tanks where he housed them for the voyage. Fiona joined the others to see how the butchering would go. She stood behind the crew circling the tank Paddy had selected.
He smiled at Fiona (the main character, who’s a horsewoman and only female aboard ship) and said, “Sure you want to watch this?”
“It’s pretty bloody.”
“So is birthing a colt.”
In his sing-song Irish lilt, he said, “Dyin’ ain’t as romantic as birthin’.”
“I’ve watched hogs slaughtered. I want to see how you do it with a turtle.”
Paddy winked at her and said,“Okay. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Fiona assumed his smile indicated he expected her to fold in the midst of the slaughter.
She was ready.
Frederick, Paddy’s steward and the ship’s stockman, asked, “How ya gonna do this?”
Paddy said, “With your help.”
“Yep, you. Come here; pull the monster’s front foot over the edge of the tank. Get it to the point so I can take a swing at his neck. It can’t draw back in its shell if a foot is outside the body.”
Paddy wielded an ax; whopped it once, twice, then three times until the head drooped from the body. But he had to whack him multiple times to cut through the cartilage that surrounded the neck. Then he manhandled the neck, the size of a newborn calf, by wrenching it round and round, twisting it to sever the neck bones. A final wallop broke the last vestiges of the neck to separate the head from the body.
That done, Paddy nodded for others to join him in lifting the body out of the tank. Several sailors stepped forward to drag it out and onto the deck. Scully, the slacker, stood back arms crossed without offering help, looking queasy.
Paddy narrated the process as the curious crew looked on, as he reached into the turtle cavity and started pulling entrails. “Some parts, we won’t eat. I have to pull the lungs, intestines, and gallbladder.”
With his arm inside the turtle up to his elbow, he seemed to know which organ he was reaching for. Turtle legs flailed at Paddy as the nerves continued to work, though he had severed the brain from the sea creature’s body. The large intestines slopped onto the deck, blood pooling.
Fiona had cooked entrails of a chicken, but these intestines here were as big around as a man’s leg. The odor escaping from the orifice was fishy smelling, unlike a chicken. However, blood holds a distinctive smell all its own. Though Fiona expected the mess made on the floor, the length of the bowels surprised her.
As Paddy reached the attached and continuous reel of guts, the small intestines narrowed into a smaller roll, the size of a man’s bicep. The tube became smaller to that of a man’s wrist by the end.
Shipmaster Best pointed to two of the crewmembers and then overboard. The two men sloshed the coiled heap into the ocean, leaving a trail of blood.
She heard retching behind her and turned to find the no-good Scully giving up his breakfast overboard. His pallid face registered embarrassment, as laughter broke out among the crew. He moved down the railing and away from the action without leaving the deck.
Paddy reached into the opening with his knife and slashed skin around another organ. He held it up in his hand, showed it to the group, and said, “This is the gallbladder. I take it out of the cavity to make the cut.”
He reached in again and pulled out a beating heart.
He said, “The heart will beat for a while like its nerves keep working. I’ll cook it and I’ll eat it,” he said with a flourish and arrogance. “That’s my call as butcher and cook.”
“It’s mine–I’ll eat it!” Jeff, the young upstart, bluffed.
Paddy taunted, “No, I get it. You don’t want it—can’t eat. Not man enough.”
“I’ll eat it right now, beating and blood red,” offered another weathered sailor, Wesley.
Each man weighed in on eating the throbbing heart. A fight for the sake of their manhood erupted. The slight-bodied Frederick backed out of the fray and joined Jacob, the peacemaker to watch the tangle of fists.
Captain Best stepped into a mass of arms and legs flailing about. He picked up Wesley by the seat of his pants and tossed him to the side. He landed on his tailbone, stunned. Then Best struck Lars in the kidney to hold him at bay. As Leo lunged from the floor to defend his brother Lars, Best set his fist square upon his jaw. The shipmaster’s job was to outsmart and/or outfight the men aboard ship. Best picked them off one by one.
For once Scully, the troublemaker, did not start this ruckus.
After the commotion calmed down, Paddy returned to his task. He inserted a mean looking eighteen-inch knife into the turtle’s underbelly. He cut through an inch-thick, tough shell until he could cut no farther, then took a mallet and tapped it around. He instructed Frederick, his student now, to lift the belly shell as he continued to cut. It required muscle and time.
After that, Paddy proceeded skillfully to cut the meat from the skin, butchered big chunks of it, and placed them on a large plank to cook later, saving the shell in which to stew the meat. The procedure took the better part of the morning. Paddy and Frederick perspired through their clothes, wiped sweat from their foreheads, and rinsed their bloody hands repeatedly in the turtle’s tank. The three smaller turtles would meet their fate another day.
The men came and went between their chores all morning. Fiona tended the horses with Jacob and Scully, as usual. She and Jacob returned to the butchering scene every little while; Scully moped from a distance after the nausea today.
Scully mumbled to Fiona, “Don’t think I’ll want turtle tonight.”
Fiona, on the other hand, relished the idea of sea turtle for supper.
Paddy cooked the turtle slowly in a huge kettle, shell and all, all day long. He created a broth in the caldron of onions and dried mushrooms. The evening meal was a new experience.
Fiona said, “M-m-m. An odd combination of flavors. It tastes a lot like beef,” she chuckled as she added, “but with a fishy taste.”
Jeff said before he had taken his first bite. “That makes no sense!”
Wesley weighed in, “But she’s right.”
Jacob, Fiona’s sole ally, added, “Of course it tastes like fish, it comes from salt water.”
2 thoughts on “Conduct Research for Scenes in Your Fiction”
Great research ideas. Judging from your writing we can learn to write descriptively, vicariously. Thanks.
Absolutely, Letty. I’ve used many of her ideas. Some I used before I read her blog post; others, since then. Particularly with historical fiction, these tips are invaluable. Thanks for stopping by to visit.
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