I hope that my writing tips will give you pause for thought, help develop your writing or even provide a hint of inspiration. Come back soon to see the next tip.
To lose myself in a good book is one of the pleasures in life especially when the location is one that takes me out of the humdrum everyday world into another place, real or imaginary: Think “Rebecca “Gone with the Wind” Captain Correlli’s Mandolin”.
A sense of place is organic to the writing of any novel. It comes with the gem of an idea like seed must be planted into soil, into a real setting, town or country. The mystery is that somehow knowing just where that place is going to be before you even know what the story is about. A sense of place can’t be added on at a later date with a frosting of little details. So here are some of my strategies.
Stalking out the terrain with a purposeful stroll around the chosen location with camera, pen and paper and lots of time to follow hunches up and down alleyways, to the top of the highest building or peak. A trip to local museum, asking questions and suggestions. Find a café and sit just watching life walk by and write a pen sketch of smells and colours and feelings. If the setting is one you know just drink it in it, the colour of earth and local stone the bricks, the roofs, all the details that make it distinctive. Sometimes I can write better about a place I’ve left because when I come back I notice more.
Find the experts. There are many local experts, poets, historians and raconteurs only to happy to meet you and chat about their love of the landscape. They tell tales and point you in directions you never might have guessed before.
My very first novel, Dancing at the Victory Cafe began by chance because I talked to a 90 year old artist who told me tales about how the Americans landed on the golf course for D Day, knocking on her door and how the local Whittington barracks was a U. S. notorious military prison. Another local expert filled me in with places to look and see wartime memorabilia for myself. We can get blasé about our own locale.
Don’t forget the collections of old photos that show how a setting has changed. Then it’s up to our imaginations to supply the rest.
THE ART IS IN THE DETAIL. It is the authentic little details that show we know our sense of place.
To write about a Scottish island once, I had to see it in all weathers, feel the wind and see how the houses fitted into the landscape as well as smell the smells and sense the atmosphere of the seashore, the colour of the rocks and the sky-scapes. Skimping on detail is short changing the reader. They may know the setting better than I do. It has to be as right as I can make it. Travel books can only supply so much.
WHEN IN DOUBT ASK… If you can’t visit your chosen location, find someone who knows it well, remember the senses, touch and sight, sound and smell and taste, dialect words and odd customs. Watch and read everything you can on YouTube: Don’t rush this stage
THE SPIRIT WITHIN A PLACE can be elusive ” it lists where it wills”. Sometimes when you expect to find it in a building or a location it’s not there but then you turn a corner and you know it’s there in the way the buildings huddle or the trees bend, you get a shiver up your spine because you can see your characters in that setting acting out their dramas in front of you.
In “Trouble on the Wind” one of my earlier novels, the story was set around the navvies who built the Settle Carlisle Railway in the 1870s who were encamped in shanty towns 12 miles from my home and I spent days roaming the fells just seeing what was left in the ground of that time. I knew every nook and cranny of that area but in the end I chose to create a village made up of many villages but the weather was the real Yorkshire weather, wind, rain and snow that was part of the action of that story.
My current challenge for The Girl Under the Olive Tree was to live on Crete for a few months or weeks every year, to imagine how it looked seventy years ago, to understand the Resistance movement there and their hide outs in the high mountains.
Scotland, Cairo and Belgium are my next destinations. Wish me luck...
Enjoy your writing!