Resources for Writers
Location, Location, Location…Secrets We Keep by Faith Hogan
They say people judge books by their cover and that’s probably very true, but I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to read something exotic or city based, or comfy and familiar, set on my own doorstep. Place is as much a part of creating a book as any character. I can name half a dozen writers I read specifically because their locations always appeal to me. There’s nothing to take you away from the humdrum rain against the window like delving into the olive groves of Italy, a leper colony off Crete or the red dirt of Australia. Which of us hasn’t gone straight to google after putting down a book and dreamed of following in the footsteps of a character we’ve lived with between the pages of our last read?
The funny thing about setting is, it doesn’t even have to be a nice place to earn its crust in a story. Some settings, thanks to their awfulness add so much more to a gritty tale than we ever give them credit for.
So, how do you create this sense of place that stays with the reader long after your characters names have left the building of the imagination?
Use a Map!
When you’re at the planning stage, get yourself a map. Very often, when you’re writing, you will use a little artistic discretion when choosing and representing your locale – however, even if you’re basing your story in a real street, or a place that can be tracked down, it’s important to get details right. The reader who picks up your book is reading with fresh eyes, they have not been bamboozled by a hundred re-writes and edits as you will have been. It’s important that if the sun comes in the kitchen window in the morning, you know the back garden is east facing! Likewise, if your main character is driving to work each day with the sea on his left, he can’t notice a chimney fire in chapter eight, where there was a sandy beach before. You can always draw up your own map – you don’t have to stick to how things are in the real world. This is after all your story, but you do have to make things seamless. It’s imperative to have a ground plan, then you can’t go too far wrong!
Use your senses
So, how do writers make their places seem so real? Some of the best writers around draw you in as much because it feels as though you’re standing on top of that cliff with their protagonist, as much as feeling you’re inside his head. The way to do that it to create a space in your novel to marvel at the wonder around you. Even if it’s graffiti strewn walls and broken beer bottles, describing with the benefit of all the senses is the way to make it come to life. So, your reader is seeing the colour of the sky, hearing the call of the lark, feeling the sun on his back, smelling the freshly cut grass and tasting that ice-cream as if it were in his own hand!
Working as a Team
The idea is that the character and the setting feed into each other to make a greater impact. You can do this subtly, so the reader hardly knows it. Any character can live in the countryside, but the character who lives in a cottage, that smells of warm brown bread and feels cosy thanks to the soft embers of last night’s stove – is probably a fairly practical, down to earth woman. If she has a large ginger cat, balled up in a moth eaten – ancient rocking chair, maybe you can already begin to visualise her personality!
The trick is not to waste descriptions, remember that everything about us (and therefore about your characters) sends out a non-verbal message about the kind of person we are. Crime writers use this technique to ever-greater success in throwing us off the scent of their villain, but in any book worth its salt you’ll find a setting that has as much personality as any character worth naming.
What’s the weather like…
If you are setting your novel in Ireland, England, Scotland or Wales, including an umbrella is always good! I can’t think of any part of the world that the weather doesn’t play a part in making setting unique to that place. So, if I’m reading about experts in the arctic ice or code breaking beneath the Vatican city, knowing that the main character is muffled up or brushing the sweat from his brow also makes the action more real.
In Ireland, we walk along the beach in all weathers, but there is a desolation and a bleakness about the winter, even on those rare days when the sun is shining. My new book, Secrets We Keep opens on just such a day, as the action moves through the characters’ lives, the weather too takes us through the year. From the new beginnings of spring buds, to overflowing flower pots filled with hydrangeas that hark back to a story that unfolded sixty years before to winter when the fictional town of Ballytokeep is closing up its doors against the winter storms.
Secrets We Keep is based on an abandoned bathhouse overlooking the beach in Enniscrone, Co Sligo. My publishers suggested changing the name of the town and so, with the addition of an old castle on the headland, Ballytokeep was born. I’m not sure that I really thought about how wonderful a setting this was, not really. I mean, Enniscrone is very beautiful, but when you’ve spent a lifetime in a place, you probably begin to take it for granted. Since the books’ publication a year ago (digital format); I’ve had so many emails about the location of this story that I’ve looked at it anew. Readers have made contact from all over the world, in particular the US and Australia and it’s made me realise that perhaps, in this book, location really is one of the main characters – and I think, it’s one to love unconditionally!
(c) Faith Hogan
About Secrets We Keep:
Two distant relatives, drawn together in companionship are forced to confront their pasts and learn that some people are good at keeping secrets and some secrets are never meant to be kept. The beautiful old Bath House in Ballytokeep has lain empty and abandoned for decades. For devoted pensioners Archie and Iris, it holds too many conflicting memories of their adolescent dalliances and tragic consequences – sometimes it’s better to leave the past where it belongs. For highflying, top London divorce lawyer Kate Hunt, it’s a fresh start – maybe even her future. On a winter visit to see her estranged Aunt Iris she falls in love with the Bath House. Inspired, she moves to Ballytokeep leaving her past heartache 600 miles away – but can you ever escape your past or your destiny?
Order your copy online here.