Today I'm handing the reins of the blog to author Grace Lowrie on the latest leg of her Safe with Me blog tour to talk about Writing a Setting.
There are lots of options open to authors of fiction, even more for those of science fiction or fantasy, and yet when I’m enthusiastically scribbling down a first draft I still have to remind myself not to always necessarily go with my first idea. When coming up with a scene I now ask myself: Does this scene (for example, an argument between two characters) have to have to occur on the living room sofa? If so – fine, but what if they were actually on an aeroplane, or a remote mountain top, or in a shop selling lingerie? Would that make the scene more dramatic/interesting/awkward? As Ra’s al Ghul says to Bruce Wayne in the film Batman Begins: “Always mind your surroundings.” I now have this stuck on my wall to remind me.
As a starting point it is generally easier to write about places I’ve been to, or have experience of. Three of my books are set in Wildham, a fictional town somewhere north of London, but the town of my imagination is based on bits and pieces of real places – the market square, pubs and coffee shops – that I know well. Similarly Southwood’s Garden Centre, which features in Safe With Me, is fictional, but based on personal experience. My aunt and uncle built up their own successful nursery and garden centre from nothing, and I worked part-time in a garden centre for several years. I know first-hand the relaxed satisfaction of planting up hanging baskets; the tedium of dead-heading endless trays full of bedding plants, and the hours spent watering pots in the heat of the summer.
But for me the most exciting aspect of choosing a setting, is the opportunity to introduce somewhere I’ve always wanted to experience myself – it gives me the perfect excuse to go there. The roof-top garden cafe that appears in Safe With Me, was based on my visit to the Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden Bar & Cafe at the Southbank Centre in London. I wanted to find a little oasis in the city; a metaphorical bridge between the greasy spoon that Rina has spent years working in, and James’s plans for a semi-rural idyll in Wildham. By going to the location myself I could soak up the atmosphere; make notes on the way it looked, smelled and sounded, and take photos to aid my memory. I could also sit there and mentally conjure up my characters; imagine what they might think or say, and picture how their body language might betray their feelings. I fear I must look a little crazy at times, when I’m focusing inwards and listening to my imaginary friends – ahem, I mean characters – but I try not to let it stop me.
Of course much of this ‘research’ doesn’t feature in the finished book, but hopefully it informs the writing and makes the world I create, more immersive for the reader. What do you think? Do you agree? Do let me know. And if you get the chance to visit London in summer, I would highly recommend the Southbank.
How far would you go to feel safe again?
Abandoned as children, Kat and Jamie were inseparable growing up in foster care. But their bond couldn’t protect them forever.
From a troubled upbringing to working in a London greasy spoon, Kat’s life has never been easy. On the surface Jamie’s living the high-life, but appearances can be deceiving.
When they unexpectedly reunite, their feelings become too intense to ignore. But as secrets come back to haunt them, are they destined to be separated once more?
Grace Lowrie has worked as a sculptor, prop maker and garden designer. She published her debut romance Kindred Hearts in 2015.
A lover of rock music, art nouveau design, blue cheese and grumpy ginger tomcats, Grace is also an avid reader of fiction – preferring coffee and a sinister undercurrent, over tea and chick lit. When not making prop costumes or hanging out with her favourite nephews, she continues to write stories from her Hertfordshire home.