Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Using places I know - or do I?

I’ve sometimes said that setting your stories in places you know is much easier than in places you don’t. In most of my novels, I’ve used places I know well – London, Scotland, the Lake District, and Paris. I’ve also had scenes in places I’ve visited like New York and Los Angeles, and I've had a couple of imaginary places that could have been any Yorkshire town or any south east England seaside resort.

The only exception was Iceland in ‘Changing the Future’. For that I had to rely on photographs and Google Earth. Ever since I wrote the book, I’ve wanted to visit Iceland, but it could prove a little frustrating as I’m sure I want to rewrite the whole of the Iceland chapters in my novel once I’d seen the real thing!

My current WIP is set in Ireland. I’ve been over to Ireland about nine times in the past six years. Some parts I know better than others, having visited them several times, and my story is set in those places i.e. Dublin and Connemara. I have masses of my own photos to remind me, but I’ve also been amazed at how much I’ve had to check or research even about places I know.

These have included: how to get from one place to another in Dublin when walking (we tended to use the tourist bus in Dublin); where to park a car in central Dublin (we always take the DART train into the city); and where a lawyer’s office might be. I looked up Dublin lawyers, and found one at St. Stephen’s Green in the city centre so decided to use that, and was relieved when my Irish beta-reader commented it was the perfect place for a lawyer’s office!

I even had to check how long it actually takes to drive from Dublin to Galway, although I’ve done that journey (and back) three times. That’s the kind of thing you don’t take note of when you’re visiting a place – at least, not unless you know in advance that you’re going to set a novel there.

I’ve also driven about four times from Galway City to Clifden, but I still had to use Google Earth and street view to remind myself of the road, and what you can see during different parts of the journey through Connemara.

Street view was so useful too when I wanted my characters to stop for petrol and also to visit a supermarket. I set street view on the approach to Clifden, and looked out for a garage (gas station). Imagine my satisfaction when I discovered there was a supermarket right next to the garage! Only a minor detail, I know, but it’s always good to be accurate. Then I routed street view through the centre of the small town, and out towards Clifden Bay and the Atlantic, and eventually found the right site for the house they were going to.

Soon my characters are going to be visiting someone in Dalkey, a small town a few miles south of Dublin. Now I know Dalkey like the back of my hand – or I think I do! What’s the betting, though, that I’ll have to dig out my photos (and use street view again) to check my memory of the place?

Or maybe I simply need another trip to Ireland before I submit this novel – just to double-check all the places I’ve used? Well, that sounds like a good excuse anyway!



  1. Awesome excuse! And I find the places one of the scariest details to include in my books because I'm always afraid someone who lives nearby will criticize me or point out that I had a street going the wrong direction!

  2. That's my concern about using real places too. I thought probably no one in Clifden or Dalkey would ever read my book - BUT I just heard from one of my readers who popped in from FB to read this blog. She's thrilled I'm using Dalkey in my new novel because her mother's family came from there, and she visited frequently until very recently. So now I'll have to get my facts right, won't I?

  3. I think another trip to Ireland is in order. Research is a business expense. A tough slog, but you simply must do it!

  4. LOL, Ana - my expenses already hugely outweigh my receipts, so I reckon the Inland Revenue owe me plenty! Pity it doeesn't work that way, isn't it?
    I could be tempted to take the car over to Ireland if the weather ever starts to improve here!


  6. I definitely like using places I've actually been for the settings of my books. Having the memories and the pictures make it so much easier to set the scene for the reader when I can 'see' the real thing in my head.

    And I have to agree...another trip in the name of research sounds like the perfect plan!

  7. Actaully it's a SeaCat (catamaran) across the Irish Sea from Holyhead to Dublin or Dun Laoghaire that I'd take, not a ferry. The Seacat is much quicker than the ferry.

  8. Agree it's easier when you can see places, Debra, but it's the small details that tend to catch me out!

  9. I love to read books set in gorgeous places when the research has been done so well. That's the great thing about reading - I can hop over to Ireland every now and then, too, even from the States. :)