One of the primary considerations of any author is where their story is set. Choosing the right location can allow the author to explore the story in context of the location, which in turn can affect how the story pans out.
Sometimes it is the location that suggests the whole story.
But what happens if your story set somewhere you don’t know? Somewhere you have never been or cannot go?
This is a familiar dilemma for me. For one, I do not, and have no desire to, live in London where the vast majority of my Daley and Whetstone novels are set. I only have a passing acquaintance with Ealing from a business trip. For another, I have no desire to visit Syria at the present time nor to travel a migrant route through Europe. Yet I want to be as authentic as possible in my descriptions.
For me, like all writers, the key was research, oh, and Google Maps.
Killing by the Book looks back to history of Coventry that in part no longer exists. Whilst the University and Halls of Residence are still standing, and Browns bar still exists, albeit in a different guise, the Students Union on Cox street and Theatre One have long gone.
My only knowledge of these were visits to my daughter who studied at Coventry.
So we went back and walked the streets, took photos, which became cover shots. For the locations which no longer existed we had to be more devious. Theatre One exists only as press cuttings, reminiscences and the fabulous Google Time lapse tool.
The images below show the area in 2010 and as it is now. The Theatre has been demolished and with it an important location for my plot.
Then there are the fictional locations.
Some can be completely made up. Streets where people live are often incidental. To be honest they don’t matter. Lambourne Street and Loughton Road are generic public buildings and could be anywhere.
I had a similar problem with the Students Union. Emma, my daughter onl visited once in her time there and it had alread been flattened. Fortunately Dick and Dom had visited giving me an insight into the building, so coupled with press cuttings and a Sunday morning sketch from Emma, I managed.
Then in The Farm, Satya journeyed from Syria to the UK via Turkey and into Europe. Having visited Paris, I knew the city reasonably well but Sofia, Budapest, Aleppo? No. Sorry.
One location was Medway Hall. This was based on Anstey Hall, near Trumpington, Cambridge. My wife Val and I stayed there a couple of years ago when we visited. There is a clinic attached to the hall as in The Farm although I have no idea what they do. Also, one can walk through the back garden into the supermarket. Handy for visitors taking the park and ride to the city.
Any other details of Medway Hall and Medway Klein are imagined.
The other was Chatham Woods Farms. The real location is close to where I live. A few years ago, an unfortunate and very tragic event took place there and the house, outbuildings and grounds have been abandoned.
I hope the owners won’t mind but I crept through the barriers one Saturday and let my imagination, and my camera, run wild. The resulting pictures were incredibly atmospheric and set the scene for the location in my book.
This trawling around the world is, for me one of the most interesting, and most rewarding, sides of writing. If one can instil a little of the place into one’s locations then they live all the more. If one can embed an essence of a real place, then all the better. The one drawback is time. I have spent many hours scouring the Internet for a specific view of a specific street at a specific time…or looking for a building which is long gone.
Was it time well spent? Please read the books and judge for yourself.