The Goats of Lahinch: A Lesson in Novel Research


I love writing crime fiction, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes I falter before writing police procedural scenes. Part of the fun of reading mysteries, of course, is to delve into the “whodunnit” aspect of the story. Interestingly, in reading and in writing, I’ve found that I don’t care about the who as much as I care about the “whydunnit” (and maybe the “howdunnit”), which is more about the psychological underpinnings of the crime.

I adore psychology. Just sayin’. So I tend toward, perhaps — someone else would have to tell me for sure — psychological suspense. I think. I just call it “mystery.”

Anyhow, so yeah, last week I found myself in the pause between scenes in my first draft. My detective needed to talk to Character X, who apparently had a beef with the murder victim. OK. Simple enough.

Anoooother scene in which Danny must talk to a witness or a suspect or a “person of interest.”

Sometimes the secret to writing these types of plot-oriented scenes is to make them more interesting for me to write. Often this means dreaming up a new-to-me setting, a place I wouldn’t normally think of, a place where the characters can interact in a new way and perhaps be physically active.

So I asked myself: What interesting job could Character X have? I Googled job openings in County Clare, the location of my story:


Lots of food industry and hotel industry jobs. But, meh. I wasn’t grabbed. But what about a golf club? I know zippo about golf, so that could make it interesting. And an outdoor space is always good for a change of pace. So I Googled “jobs at golf clubs.” I was thinking about groundskeepers, but I landed on “golf course superintendant,” which is an uber-important job and way more cool.

So then I had to look up golf course maintenance. How do you maintain a golf course? I had no clue what was involved, and what I discovered amazed me. There’s a science to it all. I was trying to picture what task Character X could be engaged in when Danny appears. I settled on fixing an erosion problem in a sand pit.

OK, great. Then I Googled golf courses in County Clare. Lo and behold, there’s a world-class, exclusive course in Lahinch. I was starting to get excited about writing the scene now. See how that works? From <yawn, another detective-asks-questions procedural scene> to <woohoo, and there’s even a sand pit known as the “devil’s pit” and what could be better than that?>

Well, there was something better than that — I “heart” research, seriously — goats!! The Goats of Lahinch. They wander around as they please and are known as weather predictors because they congregate near the club house before rotten weather.

So, in the end I got my scene, and it’s way more fun because of the location. Character X, a minor character, is more interesting. The scene is more interesting all the way around.

So I was happy. Goats! I thought about having one of the goats nibble on Danny’s notepad, but I refrained. But there’s a feisty one named “Molly.” 🙂

Goat lovers out there — I’m open to renaming the goat in my scene. Any suggestions? I picture her looking like this one:


4 thoughts on “The Goats of Lahinch: A Lesson in Novel Research

  1. Sometimes I do it the other way. I accumulate a lot of information about something — either because of circumstances or because of interest — then I start to think of ways I can use it.

    I spent a lot of time in hospitals a few years ago, as a visitor (family illness), and I kept my eyes open and wrote a couple of mystery stories set in hospitals.

    I’ve always been fascinated by royalty, titles and rules of succession and so on, so my current story involves a princess.

    I agree, it’s the details that can make it work. I’ve set a couple of fairly outlandish scenes in rock band rehearsal spaces, so I could utilize the setting (which I know well) to sell readers on the rest of it.

    So, I agree, golf course maintenance is good, but goats? Hey, that’s going to be great in the movie. 🙂

    1. Hi Anthony! I love hospitals–oh the humanity!–for storytelling. They can be tender places or creepy places or heartbreaking places. So much potential fodder!

      Rock back rehearsal spaces — that’s a good one. I wouldn’t mind doing that kind of research someday. 🙂

      Goats, seriously, Just, goats. 🙂

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