Sunday 31 August 2014

Keeping It (Un)real

Confession time. The places I write about in my books are not real, although I do occasionally take inspiration from an actual place or building. Hurst Castle in Nemesis, for example, is very loosely based on Penrhyn Castle in North Wales, but I often change elements to suit my plot.

It was never my intention to create my own world and I have written about real places in the past. Why Do Fools Fall in Love is set in Bath, and I've used Sorrento and New Orleans as settings in my Proposal stories.

From a writer's point of view, there is something very satisfying about creating a world of your own. You start off with a character or two. Your characters need friends, lovers, enemies - and somewhere to live. As soon as you've created (and decorated!) their homes, the neighbours will be popping round. So then you have to create places for all these people to visit to stop them getting into trouble - or perhaps, if you're that way inclined, encourage them into it! So that means pubs, clubs, schools, theatres - and before you know it, you've created an entire village and it's all got slightly out of control.

My first book to use an entirely made-up setting was Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. *Spoiler alert*. In it was a sub-plot about corruption in the police force. At the time I was working for the police and I didn't want anyone assuming I was writing about real people and real events. So I created Calahurst. I picked the name because every day on the way to work I passed a road called Cala-something-or-other and I added 'hurst' because I wanted to set my book someplace pretty, and I thought of the New Forest and places like Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst.

I drew a map of my imaginary village. This might sound self-indulgent but when you're writing about a place, real or made up, you really have to get it straight in your head where everything is or, before you know it, coffee shops start moving about. And I did come a cropper in A Girl's Best Friend, when I wanted my heroine to drive down a road which wasn't 'there', and I had to quickly 'build' one!

I've used Calahurst as a setting for my first three books and while I have recycled elements - one house in Smoke Gets in Your Eyes got a new owner in Breathless - I created another village (Port Rell) for my fourth book. And then I got very ambitious and added 'historical' legends - Civil War battles and sieges, and a notorious smuggler who turns up out of nowhere and then vanishes one day in much the same way. I had so much fun with that, I'm doing it all over again for my next two books. I have a new village, Buckley - previously mentioned in Nemesis, and a whole lot of new characters to get into trouble.

It really is the best part of being a writer.


My Pinterest board for Breathless has more photos of Lymington in the New Forest, which helped to inspire Port Rell (along with a few other places!)

My Pinterest board for Nemesis has more photos of Penrhyn Castle

Writing What You Don't Know - Researching Locations - a blog post for Novelistas Ink


  1. I think it's great you drew out maps for your imaginary places . . . I do it. too! Interesting post!

    1. Thank you, Gina! I would love to have maps at the front of my books too, with little pictures of my characters' houses. As my art skills are zero, maybe that will have to wait until sometime in the future! x

  2. Interesting. I think this is what my daughter finds so appealing about The Sims... and the Civilization games. I wonder if such games sharpen your ability to imagine the details of imaginative worlds or do the opposite...

    1. Your comment about The Sims is interesting, Paula, because I had the same thought myself as I wrote the post! My daughter used to love playing The Sims and has gone on to be a writer too. I'm sure the game does kickstart the brain's creativity but it is then up to the individual to do something with it!