Location, Location, Location
If you read my July blog post Reading 'in Situ', you will know that a sense of place is very important to me when I'm reading and I especially like reading a novel in the place where it's set. But what about my own writing? There is always a decision to be made whether to choose a fictional or a real location. For me, I prefer to imagine a fictional place based on a real or an amalgamation of real settings. This allows me to use my imagination and create a location where my characters and their stories take place. I try to make it vivid enough that readers will be transported there with the characters. Because it's fictional, they will not bring any preconceived ideas of what the place is like and I will be introducing them to the location for the first time. They may have been somewhere similar and they may have visited a place it reminds them of especially if real main towns, rivers or landmarks surrounding the fictional place are mentioned. Beforehand I like to collect images and collate my own photographs to help me imagine the places I shall be describing.
In Whispering Olive Trees, most of the novel is set on a fictional island in the Peloponnese, Southern Greece. It's very roughly based on the island of Spetses where my aunt and Greek uncle had a summer house and where I visited a number of times. You will find the solitary olive tree that plays an important part in the novel growing in the sand outside my cousin's house on the mainland opposite the island. However, it's a long time since I've been to that particular island and I'm sure things have changed so my island of Péfka is a mixture of the islands I've visited more recently. The Guikas taverna and Yiannis's wood turners workshop are based on ones we visited in a Cretan village, for example. Apart from Athens, Kranidi and Ermione, all the place names are fictional. Location is more than place names, of course, and the climate, landscape, cuisine, the character traits of the local people all can add authenticity. By setting a fictional island in a real area, readers will hopefully get a sense of place.
|From the 'White Almond Sicily' blog|
Because I've been to the area where Whispering Olive Trees is set and have collected many photographs on the holidays spent in there, it was relatively straightforward to create a believable setting. But is it possible to set your novel in a place you haven't visited and achieve the same sense of authenticity? The novel I've recently been editing, Keeping Her Secret, involves the main character, Jen, traveling to Sicily in search of an Italian PoW who was imprisoned in a camp near her home during WWII. Not having been to Sicily (yet!), I have had to rely on researching places on Google, looking at maps and talking to my lovely neighbour who is from Sicily. I am grateful to author Jo Thomas, whose latest book My Lemon Grove Summer is set on the island, for recommending an amazing blog White Almond Sicily In my novel, Jen concentrates her search around the area of Cefalu on the North East coast. Imagine how pleased I was to find a whole blog post about visiting the resort together with lots of photos just a few weeks ago. By the time editing is finished, the location will have a fictional name and be an invented area near Cefalu but based on a real area in Sicily.
Thank you for reading. Do you set your novels in real or fictional locations? Maybe you combine the two? I'd love to hear how you choose settings for your stories and how you go about researching them.