So you’ve decided that your book will not be based in the country where you usually live. In fact you have never lived there. Nothing wrong with that. It might seem like a scary prospect but that’s okay. A little fear stirs the imagination which isn’t a bad thing for a writer. There’s nothing like transporting yourself to another land and into another person’s troubles and woes to help to free your mind a little.
I speak from experience. 55 – my debut novel – is set in a remote town in West Australia. A million miles and an entirely different climate from where I was born and grew up on the North Coast.
It is not the first novel I have based abroad. My first attempt at a novel was set in Newfoundland off the coast of Canada, a place I had and have never been to. Since then I have written other novels set from Vietnam to London to Drogheda.
In doing so I have developed a number of techniques that help me establish a sense of the location which I will share with you in the hope that they are useful. No guarantees though.
The first is pretty obvious. I mine any personal experience or previous trips to said country. People I met, places I have visited, things that I have seen, incidents that occurred that gives me a flavour of the culture, phrases or accents. These I gather and store to try and give my work that personal touch. There are certainly a couple of incidents in 55 that have come from personal experience. Not the serial killing part, I stress!
I was able to use the year spent living and travelling around Australia taking in what it could offer, from working and living in Melbourne, to Adelaide and Coober Pedy before taking the Gunbarrel highway from Alice Springs to the West. Long bus and car journeys to remote destinations across the state before making it to Darwin in the far North before travelling down the East coast towards Sydney. Vast and beautiful.
My second tip is to ask around. I ask friends/colleagues/vague acquaintances if they have been to the location of the novel. It might seem random but it can work. Currently I am writing a novel set in Seattle as a side-project and found out that my wife has a work colleague who lives there and was only too happy to provide some on-the-ground information on Seattle and what it is like to live there.
Maybe neither of these are applicable to you or the people you ask. Not to worry. Even without personal or vicarious experience of the location there are other ways to research. Thirdly, and even with access to first-hand accounts, I think it is vital to undertake some broader research of the country through newspaper stories, online articles, novels, essays or any information I can lay my hands on. Even films and TV shows (even reality TV) can be useful for landscape, accent and snippets of life.
From there – and especially if I have an idea of the specific city, state or region where my novel is going to take place – I further narrow my searches to get a deeper sense of the place. What is the political landscape? The prominent religions? The cultural mix? Are there tensions? What is the employment situation? Boom times or deep recession? Detached houses or tenements? Greetings – handshakes, hugs or kisses? How many kisses?
With a sense of the city or region that the characters will inhabit – even if that city or region is invented – I have a base on which I can develop the beginnings of character and crisis.
Fourthly, accent and speech are important as well as local sayings. Newspapers articles, Youtube videos, forums and all manner and number of websites provide instances of local slang such as: he could kick the arse off an emu (ie. being in very good health) as well as the most important thing to find out: what are the best (and worst) swearwords.
Fifthly, a crime author also has some specific issues to deal with. Law and Disorder. What is the structure of the police force nationally and locally? Who investigates crimes? Ranks and uniform? Who responds to call outs? What equipment are they supplied with? Who would be called into perform an examination of a body? Where would the body be taken? What procedures would it undergo? Standard procedures or is there something specific to do relating to very cold or very warm climates? All this generally involves more patient research but I find that social media can be invaluable for this. There are myriad of Facebook groups and forums containing professionals and ex-professionals who are happy to answer questions on everything from bullet patterns to body disposal.
I hope this provides some insight into the steps I take to develop my knowledge of a potential novel setting. Experience is very beneficial but does not have to be the be-all and end-all. Research is equally as important to try and understand the region and setting that the characters and their problems will inhabit. Good luck!
(c) James Delargy
There were 54 victims before this. Who is number 55?
A thriller with a killer hook, and an ending that will make you gasp!
Wilbrook in Western Australia is a sleepy, remote town that sits on the edge of miles and miles of unexplored wilderness. It is home to Police Sergeant Chandler Jenkins, who is proud to run the town’s small police station, a place used to dealing with domestic disputes and noise complaints.
All that changes on a scorching day when an injured man stumbles into Chandler’s station. He’s covered in dried blood. His name is Gabriel. He tells Chandler what he remembers.
He was drugged and driven to a cabin in the mountains and tied up in iron chains. The man who took him was called Heath. Heath told Gabriel he was going to be number 55. His 55th victim.
Heath is a serial killer.
As a manhunt is launched, a man who says he is Heath walks into the same station. He tells Chandler he was taken by a man named Gabriel. Gabriel told Heath he was going to be victim 55.
Gabriel is the serial killer.
Two suspects. Two identical stories. Which one is the truth?
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