It is a great pleasure for me to welcome bestselling English author, Rosie Travers to discuss the imprtance of setting in novels. It is always exciting to benefit from the knowledge of experienced writers. Thank you for your time today, Rosie. Over to you!
From the craggy coasts of Cornwall to the wilds of the Yorkshire Moors, dramatic landscapes have always provided plenty of inspiration for writers. In fact, sometimes the setting can become the star of the show. Who hasn’t read a book where the exotic location far outshines the plot?
We all like to escape, but when it comes to finding the perfect settings for my novels, it’s important for me to write about places I know. It may not provide the most spectacular scenery in the world, but both my two published novels are set on the south coast of England. The Theatre of Dreams is set in the unfashionable seaside resort of Hookes Bay, while Your Secret’s Safe With Me revolves around a sailing community on the sleepy village of Kerridge.
I’ve never made any secret of the fact that Hookes Bay is based on the town of Lee-on-the-Solent in Hampshire. I was actually living in the Netherlands at the time, but on a visit back to visit family in the UK I was walking along the seafront in Lee when I spotted a notice commemorating the spot of the art deco Lee Tower entertainment complex which was demolished back in the 1970s just 40 years after its construction. I knew Lee pretty well from my childhood, but I’d never had any idea this building even existed, which immediately made me question why wasn’t it saved, giving birth to the whole idea of a novel featuring a comic and convoluted campaign to save an iconic seaside pavilion. Obviously I had to set my campaign in a fictional town, after all my ‘pavilion’ still existed (just) but when you create a fictional place you can draw on elements of a real one, while designing something that meets your plot needs - fantasy town planning.
At the time of writing my second novel, Your Secret’s Safe With Me, I was living very close to the River Hamble in Hampshire. (For anyone old enough to remember – this area was the setting of the BBC Sunday night drama series Howard’s Way, back in the era of big hair and shoulder pads.) The village of Hamble itself is a bustling place – far too popular to be the quiet sleepy hamlet I needed for my unsuspecting dysfunctional family who stumble into some illicit shenanigans when they uproot from London – but there are quieter spots further upstream, where I could picture their new riverside home, while in the saltmarshes at the estuary, with a big stretch of imagination, I could have the perfect hideouts for my unscrupulous sailors.
Basing a novel in a place I know, but creating my own space within that location, makes it much easier for me to imagine my characters movements. I can walk in their footsteps - or rather they can walk in mine. I can picture the same sights, hear the same noises, and inhale the same smells. All this adds realism to my writing.
I’m currently working on a series of humorous mysteries set on the Isle of Wight, once again the original idea inspired by a seafront stroll. Luckily, I’ve been able to make three trips over to the island this year, despite the restrictions of Covid-19, and I’m very relieved I decided to set my new novels there, and not anywhere that involved intercontinental travel! As it is, Google Maps and Street View have proved invaluable tools. However, for me, it’s not just about seeing a place, it’s about soaking up an atmosphere and relaying that atmosphere into the pages of a book. A computer can tell you what a place looks like, but it can’t provide the wafting aroma of fish and chips on a sunny evening, or the sticky scent of a beach front ice cream kiosk – at least not yet!
Rosie grew up in Southampton and loved escaping into a good book at a very early age. After several years juggling motherhood and a variety of jobs in local government, she moved to southern California when her husband took an overseas work assignment. With time on her hands she started a blog about ex-pat life which rekindled her teenage desire to become a writer. On her return to the UK she took a creative writing course and the rest, as they say, is history. Her debut novel The Theatre of Dreams was published in August 2018 and her second novel Your Secret’s Safe With Me was published in February 2019. She is currently working on a series of cosy mysteries.
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