I’m really pleased to be joined by author Annemarie Allan today, who I met recently at a lunch for authors and bloggers in Edinburgh. She kindly gave me a copy of her book Charlie’s Promise to read so watch out for my review in the next few weeks. In the meantime, she has written a really great post on why setting is so important to her in her writing.
Setting is always important and landscape often determines the nature of my characters, sometimes quite literally. My novel Ushig is an attempt to bring Scotland’s mythical creatures into the modern world and those creatures, the selkies and kelpies, the unseelie court and all the others are a direct product of Scotland’s mountains, its coasts, rivers, lochs and forests.
With my latest novel, ‘Charlie’s Promise’ the setting is deeply personal. Morison’s Haven, where Charlie lives, is the where place my mother grew up and the children’s journey through the haughty stateliness of the New Town and the overpopulated grubby warrens of the Old Town reflect the city of Edinburgh as I knew it, growing up in the 1950s.
The novel is set in 1938, a year before the start of the Second World War. Research was an essential component in terms of getting things right, but sometimes it’s simply not possible to find what you’re looking for. My story begins in Danzig, (modern-day Gdansk). After endless searching, I failed to track down any reliable information on how long it took a steamship to make the journey from Danzig to the Firth of Forth. In the end, I was forced to work it out based on average speed, distance travelled and some extreme guesswork about the weather conditions at sea in November. A lot of work for what in the end amounted to less than a sentence!
Oddly enough, another issue in terms of research is the possibility of being a little too thorough. Kristallnacht, which took place on 9-10 November 1938, was the night the Nazi government orchestrated a wave of attacks on Jews across Germany. However, the violence did not reach Danzig until 12-14 November. I spent a lot of time wondering whether readers might assume I’d got it wrong and in the end, I decided not to be too specific about the date.
There is no doubt that knowing the background makes for a better story. A good grasp of the world that fictional characters inhabit is an essential element in convincing the reader to engage with the plot and the characters. But for me and I guess for most writers of fiction, it’s the chance to let your imagination run free that triggers the irresistible urge to keep on writing!
Thanks Annemarie, great to hear more about the settings for Charlie’s Promise which I’m really looking forward to reading. You can find out more about Annemarie and her work from her website http://annemarieallan.com/