As promised, here is the first of my writing about writing posts. I believe I said we'd be starting with Setting. So here goes.
When I was 15, my very first novella was set on a farm in South Africa. The reason for this was the characters felt as though that was where they wanted to be. Perhaps there was also an element of my own desire to be in that particular landscape. I’ve never lived on a farm but was lucky enough to know people who did and had watched an abundance of Little House on The Prairie. Young and naïve as I was at this writing lark, I thought that was all I needed to know.
Now however I never think too much about where I set my writing. But countries, cities and particular areas I visit, work and play in, always predominate.
During my university days and for a while after, I studied and lived in Manchester and its surrounding areas. So I have a great fondness for tit North. It will come as no surprise then that the city makes an appearance in my first published e-novel, Six Dead Men. And since I was living in London at the time I wrote the book, it features in its pages quite heavily too.
In Sharp Dark Things my central character is on a bus at one point, welly deep on a waterlogged journey from an area in Battersea where I indeed experienced the very thing I describe. So some instances are taken from my own life experience while others are imagined and recreated to suit my characters and where I feel they need to be.
Even in my children’s books, though they are fantasy, there is still an element of the real world. This continues to be the case in my Rainbow Quest science fiction series. I may change place names or make up entirely new ones, but they’re always based on an area I frequent and know fairly well.
As I write a scene there is usually an image of a place in my mind. I’m in the centre of the area, turning this way and that, zooming in and out as I try to give the reader a view of what my character sees. I try as much as possible to incorporate as many senses as I can during this process.
Recently though, I ventured into unknown territory when I decided to set Palindrome (my latest novella) in Scotland. This is mainly because the plot is based around the childhood of a character in Six Dead Men whose heritage is Scottish. I turned to the internet as travelling to Scotland at the time wasn’t feasible. For me it’s not an ideal way to write a setting. I prefer to have walked or driven the streets of the landscape where my characters live.
There are so many pitfalls.
- Upsetting the locals because you get it wrong (people don’t always remember that novels are fiction, especially when a loved place is named)
- Putting something in the location which couldn’t possibly be there (a wood in a predominantly built up area with no nature for miles around).
- Writing about rolling hills when the location you’ve picked at random is a flat or marshy one
So I knew I was creating more problems for myself than which word should go where. But I’ve been lucky enough to find a Facebook group which has old photos of the town (Haddington) and a wonderful correspondent in the group who is all too ready to help me with my many enquiries.
The plan is to visit sometime this year. There will be much traipsing of streets and clicking of the camera to record my visit. There will also be a train journey between the town and Edinburgh as there is one in Palindrome. I hope I can then do the town justice in the story.
So, on the subject of setting, I second the old adage:
Write what you know.