Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Remember When . . . The Family Moved?

Lizard Peninsula    The cliffs where smugglers once stashed their bounty are now home to a revitalised wealth of fauna and flora. (Matt Munro)
In writing the Shadows Over England series, I did a lot of studying of the geography of England. For book 1, I only had two scenes in London, and then the rest was in Cornwall. So the fact that my family's big trip to England fell during the writing/editing of A Name Unknown served me quite well. We spent a lovely four days in Cornwall, which gave me the opportunity to explore it and get to know the neighborhood in which Peter Holstein lived.

But then that made me all the more aware of how little I knew about the settings for the rest of the series. Wales. London. Ack!

To help me in A Song Unheard, I purchased a few books...and spent a lot of time in Google Maps, traveling down the streets of Aberystwyth, Wales. To be perfectly honest, I was pretty proud of myself for actually learning all the street names around the hotel where much of the action took place. Because, much like Ella from A Lady Unrivaled, I am directionally impaired, LOL. Even with a GPS, I can get lost. Or try to direct my husband down the wrong street. It is a foregone conclusion in my family that if I say, "I think/don't think this is it..." one should ignore me. 😉 But when dealing only in fiction, I can give directions. I could make Willa (who explores until she's at home in any town) navigate the small city with ease.

Aberystwyth Castle   Welsh Name: Llanbadarn  In the town of Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, west Wales
Aberystwyth Castle - Pinterest
But also in A Song Unheard, I needed to get more specific about where the family lived in London. I knew it would be a big deal by book 3, which would take place almost entirely in that city, so it was time to get serious. The scenes in book 2 that actually took place in London were based partly upon my own very limited exploration of the place. When I realized Lukas would likely have come into St. Pancras train station--the same place we went by train to France--I decided I'd put my fictional newspaper office that he was seeking on the very street where our hotel was located. Why not? That allowed me to describe things like walking distance and surroundings with a bit of knowledge.
Post from April 2017

But An Hour Unspent was a different story. First of all, I needed the neighborhood where my family of thieves had spent most of their lives. You may remember my post from last April, when my tyrannical book refused to be set where I wanted it to be. *Sigh* After searching through my book of London boroughs, I decided to put them in Poplar--historically one of the poorest sections of London. This, then, is where Pauly's pub is, and where Rosemary and Willa and Barclay were the most comfortable. The streets they know best.
The awesome book I found
that takes you through London
borough by borough,
following the Thames

But if you've read A Song Unheard, then you know Peter offers them the use of his London house, which I decided to situate in Hammersmith. I had fun learning about that section of the city too. And it became an even better pick for them when I realized it was only a 7-minute walk from Whitehall, where the Admiralty buildings are. Given that my mysterious Mr. V is good friends with a naval officer who in fact gives them some of their assignments in An Hour Unspent, this was perfect.

Still, if we're talking personal preferences, I'm a country girl, not a city girl. At all. So it still feels a bit strange sometimes to be writing so many books set in London--The Number of Love, book 1 in The Codebreakers Series that I'm writing now, is also set there. It was some consolation, however, to realize that my characters were a bit out of their element too, being transplanted to new parts of the city. Or in the case of Margot, moving from small-town life in Louvain (Belgium) to occupied Brussels, and then finally to London, which is obviously very different from anything she'd known before.

Moving characters can be a challenge for a writer--logistics! New streets to pretend you know--but it's also fun! Because you're forcing your characters out of the familiar, comfortable places...and we all know that taking characters out of their comfort zones results in some beautiful tension and stressful situations. Mwa ha ha ha--just what every writer needs!


Post a Comment