I am thrilled that bestselling author Penny Hampson has made time to stop by my blog today to discuss setting in novels. Thank you for sharing your time and expetise, Penny. Over to you.
The setting of a novel is very important to me, both as a reader and a writer. As a reader, I’m not inclined to start reading a story if say, it is set on the moon, as I’m not a big fan of sci-fi. But if I pick up a book and discover that the story is set in a place I’m familiar with, or somewhere I’d like to visit, well, you can guarantee that I’ll start reading. I love being swept away to a different place or a different time period, and the writer who can conjure up a believable fictional universe will draw me into their story.
As a writer, setting is crucial to me as it often ties in with the plot. In my book, The Unquiet Spirit, the story starts off in Oxford, a place I know well. Oxford is important to the story because it explains the background of my main character, Kate Wilson; her place of work shows how much she is into history and her love of books - and you don’t get a better place for books and historical manuscripts than Oxford and its world-famous libraries.
From there, the story shifts to Falmouth, Cornwall, another place that I love and one which is totally different to Oxford. Here I wanted to show Kate’s less academic side, with concerns about her recently inherited house, dealing with a new neighbour, and the incidentals of daily life. I included descriptions of places I’ve stayed in or visited, such as Kate’s parents’ flat and the coffee shop that Kate makes her local (all hopefully well-disguised).
As I write, I imagine walking the same streets that my characters walk, recalling the weather on particular days. One key scene, set on the pier looking across to St Mawes, resonated particularly with me, as I’ve spent many a time there gazing across the water waiting for a ferry to dock, feeling the sea breeze on my face and tasting the salt in the air.
Setting does not just mean place of course, it can also mean time. Several of my books are historical novels, and while I’m unable to time-travel I have done a lot of research. The period that most appeals to me is the early nineteenth century, a time when there was a lot of upheaval and social change, especially in Europe. Britain was at war with Napoleon and the threat of invasion by the French was something occupying the minds of many people, especially those living in coastal towns.
It is therefore no accident that I chose Falmouth again as a setting for A Bachelor’s Pledge. Falmouth was the base for the packet ships that plied their ways across the seas, ensuring that news travelled between Britain and her people abroad. My research showed that Falmouth in those years was a vibrant and mainly prosperous town, with lots of travellers using it as a stopping-off place before continuing their journeys on to either foreign climes or their British homes. Still vibrant today, it is no longer crowded with gentlemen in naval uniform or ladies in elegant long dresses, but tourists sporting shorts and tee-shirts.
Another place that fits into both my historical and contemorary stories is Bath. This too, is a place I love and know well. In The Unquiet Spirit it was the ideal location for Kate to visit when she is looking into the background of a mysterious portrait, and I was spoiled for choice when deciding where she and her companion should stay for the night! Alas, the place I finally decided on was a location I have not stayed in myself but is based on a tour I made round a showhouse.
Bath with its historical connections was also an obvious location in A Bachelor’s Pledge. Although it had passed its heyday by 1810, the year in which this story is set, it was still a poplar place to visit. Fortunately, most of the venues that were around then are still here today, making it perfect for anyone like me who enjoys doing on-the-ground research.
Knowing how important a setting is to me as a reader, I try to make my fictional locations as real and as evocative as I can. My aim is to whisk readers away to cobbled streets, smoky inns, bustling coffee shops, and sun-filled beaches, both in the past and in the present day - for what is the purpose of a story, but to take us on a magical journey?
Penny Hampson writes mysteries, and because she has a passion for history, you’ll find her stories also reflect that. A Gentleman’s Promise, a traditional Regency romance, was Penny’s debut novel, which was shortly followed by more in the same genre. Penny also enjoys writing contemporary mysteries with a hint of the paranormal, because where do ghosts come from but the past? The Unquiet Spirit, a spooky mystery/romance set in Cornwall, was published by Darkstroke in 2020.
Penny lives with her family in Oxfordshire, and when she is not writing, she enjoys reading, walking, swimming, and the odd gin and tonic (not all at the same time).
For more on Penny’s writing, visit her blog: https://pennyhampson.co.uk/blog/
THE GENTLEMEN SERIES (Regency Historical Mystery/Romances)
A Gentleman’s Promise (revised 2nd edition coming soon)
An Officer’s Vow: purchase link ~ mybook.to/AnOfficersVow
A Bachelor’s Pledge: purchase link ~ mybook.to/ABachelorsPledge
Dark Scotland - mybook.to/darkscotland
The Unquiet Spirit (A spooky contemporary mystery/romance) purchase link ~ getbook.at/theunquietspirit