Tuesday, 19 September 2017

A Novel Setting
Apologies to everyone for the gap in blog posts but I've just come back from two weeks in beautiful Crete. Before that, I was desperately trying to get as much of novel two written to send off to the New Writers' Scheme for a critique. In the end, I managed just under forty-seven thousand words and added a detailed outline of the second half of the book

The basic idea for Whispering Olive Trees started as a short story. It was shorted listed for a competition and then published as Whispers in the Olive Trees on Alfie Dog Fiction. Like my first novel, A Mother's Secret, it's a dual narrative - one story set in 1977 in the Peloponnese, Southern Greece, and the other in 1999 in both rural mid-Wales and Greece. The fictional island of Péfka is very loosely based on the island of Spetses where my aunt and Greek uncle had a home and where we visited them a number of times.

Although we didn't return to Spetses itself, spending a holiday in Greece again this year proved to be a wonderful way of immersing myself in the country where my novel is set. We managed to get away from the tourist crowds of Rethymnon and get out into some Cretan villages. Elin, one of the novel's main characters, lodges at a taverna for the whole of her stay in Greece. By visiting a typical Greek taverna, and sampling rustic Greek dishes, I hope this will add authenticity to my writing. 
I took lots of photographs again this year. An ancient olive tree with its gnarled trunk plays an important part in the story and I was able to photograph one that fits the bill perfectly. Walking through the narrow streets of one little village, I imagined Elin and her daughter, Lexi, twenty years later, walking up from the harbour in the heat of the summer sun and finding shade from the narrow cottages.

On her first walk up through the village, Elin passes the 'Villa Anastasia' where a red setter comes bounding up to wrought iron gates just like these.

Bouganvillea blooms everywhere in vibrant pinks, along with oleanders and scarlet hibiscus and these are all mentioned in the novel.

This is how I imagine the view from Péfka over to the mainland and the fictional town of Porto Nikos. No cars are allowed on the island and it is across this strait of water that my characters travel by water taxi to the port where they arrived by hydrofoil, The Flying Dolphin.

Having visual images of the places in my novel and experiencing real Greece will, I hope, help me when it comes to the editing stage. The sights, sounds, smells and tastes I have encountered on holiday will make the setting all the more real - well, that's what I hope anyway. 

Thank you for reading. How do you make your settings authentic? Does it help you if you have a collection of photographs and images? 

You may also follow me on @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.


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    1. What a lovely post, Jan. I can well imagine how these glimpses of Greek island life will fit into your narrative. Visiting the kind of places we set our stories is, IMV, essential. Not least when they are out of our usual milieu.
      My stories are so firmly rooted in the part of Wales where I live I don't need to do much more than look around me. I do have an internal 'memory box' of locations & snapshots which I elaborate on with internet searches. And I do some story-boarding too which I find helpful.
      As ever, I wish you every success with your writing. No one I know works harder or sticks at her craft more assiduously! You deserve all the accolades I hope will come your way. xXx

      ps: Silly mistake now rectified!

    2. Thanks for the kind comments, Carol. The setting of both 'Ghostbird' and 'Snow Sisters' is very much rooted in your local area but it's how you've used those observations in such an evocative way that gives your novels such a wonderful sense of place.

  2. Beautiful photographs, Jan - I'm sure they'll bring memories flooding back and be a real help as you edit. I don't often use photos for prompts as I write, but I sketch maps and draw plans of the layout of houses to make sure I remember what's where - I'm terribly forgetful!

    1. Thank you, Sara. Sketching maps and drawing plans sounds a great way to visualise where everything is. It would avoid some blunders I always spot when editing! Shall give it a go. :-)