Today I am delighted to introduce Anna Bell, author of It Started with a Tweet to the blog. As part of the blog tour, Anna is going to talk about how she gets down to the sense of place that is crucial for a book setting.
A Sense of Place:
When writing a novel, choosing where it’s set can be a crucial decision as often it can have a big impact on the plot. In some cases the location can be so integral to the story that it’s almost like one of the characters – think of Wuthering Heights and it’s setting on the Yorkshire Moors or imagine Bridget Jones not being set in London.
I usually set my novels in unremarkable suburban locations with the intention of showing how my story could happen to anyone. Yet right from the beginning with my latest novel, It Started With a Tweet, I knew that the setting would play a key role in the story. The concept of the novel was that the main character Daisy was forced to do a digital detox. The detox would need to happen somewhere rural, remote and with patchy mobile signal. At first I thought about setting it in rural France, where I live, but it was going to be too difficult for the plot with the language barrier which would impact on her interactions with the villagers. So I decided to set it in the UK.
One of my best friends and her husband quit their London life and moved to Cumbria a few years ago. It was a massive lifestyle change from them moving from a 24/7 city to a slower way of life. Their pictures on Facebook where forever making me jealous (not helped by one of them being a professional photographer) so when I was looking for a countryside setting it immediately sprung to mind. I went up to visit the area and I fell in love with it. The undulating hills that are craggy and green. The little stone walls that are dotted over the landscape. The slate and grey bricked villages that still have a traditional sense of community. It was perfect for the book in every way.
Once I had the general area in my head, I then made up a village for it to be set in. I knew that a key part of my story were going to be the villagers who lived there and I didn’t want to offend anyone by using a real place. The fictional of village of Lullamby was based on a few of the different villages that I visited. Once I could picture it in my head, I then grilled my friends that lived there and got them to explain to me what it was like to have been an outsider moving to the area. What were the main differences between the way people talked there as appose to London? It wasn’t only the dialect that was important but the topics of conversation and the way they would talk too.
Happy with the setting and the supporting cast, I then turned my attention to the impact of the place on my character. At the beginning of the novel Daisy is living in London, working all hours, partying hard, constantly attached to her phone, but when her life spirals out of control she finds herself on a digital detox in Cumbria. Without her phone she starts to slow down and to notice the world around her. She goes for long walks on the countryside and starts to think about what is important to her. I tried to use the places to mirror Daisy’s life – London was a reflection of her fast-paced, busy, chaotic lifestyle just as Cumbria became a reflection of her new life where she indadvertedly lived by the principles of slow-living.
As a writer it was a really interesting challenge for me as it’s the first time that I’ve written a novel where the setting had a starring role. I just hope that everyone falls in love with the place like I did when I wrote it!