I know I’m mentioned this before, rambled on about it most likely, but I’m puzzling over the feasibility (for me) of writing something set in a location which is not only real, but somewhere I know very well… for example the place where I live now. Most of my novels are set in an imaginary town, on an imaginary coastline, with an imaginary big city with an airport and motorway connections nearby, with imaginary villages all around, moors, hills, marl pits, post-industrial landscapes… all completely fictitious, all existing only in my own mind and that of my readers.
I have only set one of my novels, ‘Flipside’ in a real place, the town of Oldham where I lived for many years. I did set another novel, ‘Loving Judah’ in two real areas of the country, Yorkshire and Cornwall, but the actual locations were just invented.
Why have I done this? Well, for me it gave a freedom to be totally creative in terms of plot… I needed a run-down, shabby town… so here is Castair; I needed a rather posh village, the ‘locals’ pushed out by townie incomers who bought up local homes and pushed up the prices, so her is Bethel; I needed marl pits – here they are on the far side of Castair… I need an old disused factory, a Methodist chapel turned into a posh restaurant, a network of little ‘lanes’ filled with expensive jewellery and knick-knack shops, fancy ice-cream parlours, ethnic delis, over-priced footwear boutiques… All can be done with an imaginary place. I am very careful to make my places ‘work’ and to be consistent with directions, connections and distances.
Having an imaginary setting can help to ensure that the reader understands my characters are totally fictional, completely products of my mind, and that any accidental similarities to anyone is just a complete coincidence.
I have mentioned all this before, but it is playing on my mind a little as I have written a series of scenes based on where I live now, a small village right next to the sea, on the estuary of a river which was once navigable deep into Somerset, but now is a sleepy remnant of itself for many of its miles. My characters go into ‘my’ pub, drink the beer I drink, go for meals in ‘the other’ pub, go into ‘our’ paper-shop, walk past the village school, the castle the bluebell field, Rose Cottage, the old school cottage… My dilemma is whether I should rework these scenes into another imaginary location, changing, omitting, adding features and places. Might people I know think I’m writing about them if my story is here in our village? Might I inadvertently have a story-line which parallels a real situation of a real person – a person who might think I have stolen the story from them?
Recently I have been reading a series of books set not far from here, in and around Bridgwater, Burnham, Brean Down and the coastline all along here, a coast I know very well. The series is by Damien Boyd, they are police procedurals ‘starring’ Nick Dixon a maverick police officer. As a reader it’s been quite exciting -‘ooh, I know that golf club/church/street/motorway services!’ I have even been into a couple of the pubs he mentions (no surprise there!) One of the novels is set when we had terrible floods down here in 2014 where a lot of our county was under water for months. Of course, in the novel, the crime scene was also under water!
Reading Boyd’s novels has really set me thinking yet again about location… our little village has so much to offer as a setting for novels – ruined church built on the site of a much older Anglo-Saxon chapel, a Neolithic hill fort, an ancient wharf where Phoenicians, Romans and Vikings shipped stuff out and brought stuff in, brickworks, claypits, quarries and lime kilns, ancient caves, water meadows, dangerous mud and quicksand, dunes, floods and a tsunami, golf course, wonderful pubs, restaurant, tearoom, picturesque and quaint old buildings, stylish new buildings, mysterious wooded areas with strange earthworks, nearby motorway connecting to London, the north, the south… anywhere in the country really! – legends of pirates and smugglers, local characters, real celebrities (John Cleese, William Lisle Bowles, Hannah Moore) sea frets and sea fog (the fog horn now defunct)…
Hmmm, I must ponder some more…
Meanwile, a link to my books:
…and an interesting article from some time ago about Uphill: