Location, Location, Location...
You never know what will inspire a story. It could be a slip of an overheard conversation, a dream you have, or maybe even a glimpse of a building that sends shivers down your spine.
Whilst many of my locations and settings have been ‘made up’, they are based on images or experiences. The wee island of Cree in Footsteps in the Ocean is an amalgamation of the general Scottish landscape that I have always loved since visiting the country, my memories of the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in Northumbria, and research about the Isle of Eigg where I have never visited but which seemed a perfect size for Cree. The café is also taken from an experience whilst in Scotland, and it complements Penny, working as a symbol not only for love, cosiness and warmth, but also stifling imprisonment.
For my next novel I have my eye on a building that I have driven past numerous times, somewhere in the north of Shropshire. I don’t remember how old I was when the sight of this place gave me a little thrill. It is other-worldly gothic; with dirty golden stone and dark, leaded windows where the presence of a ghostly face staring back at you would hardly be a surprise. It has to be in a novel. But I think I will move it to some coastal cliffs where the wind and the fog and the rain will batter it. It will also come to embody the thematic elements of my period novel and work as a character in its own right.
Many novels and dramas use location as a character like this. Take, for instance, The Woman in Black, which is set on a small island that is reached by a causeway. This causeway is blocked by a high-tide, meaning characters are either trapped on the island or kept away from it despite their desire to reach it. This all adds to the thrilling atmosphere as well as the actual plot-line. The Woman in Black set on the mainland would not have quite the same effect. Furthermore, Kate Morton’s, The Distant Hours, contains a ruinous castle inhabited by three equally fragile, traditional, and haunting female characters. These characters complement their location, and vice versa. The castle becomes a character in its own right and is integral to the story.
Location is a very powerful tool, one that should require much thought. It can be just as exciting and enticing as the characters themselves. You can find your location anywhere; you just have to keep your eyes open.