Monday, October 31, 2016

My Kind of (Fictional) Town

Like Vicki who was writing last week about her series, Year Round Christmas, I too create towns, villages, hamlets, even, for the DI Fleming Galloway series.

There are lots of good reasons for choosing the fictional line. First, you have to remember that libel laws in the UK are very strict and I have a terror that if I had a corrupt police officer called Eric Watson who has a bald head, a paunch and a large wart on his nose and placed him in an actual police station, with a certain deadly inevitability,there would turn out to be an Eric Watson who corresponded to the physical description and didn't take kindly to being described as corrupt. I still remember when Joanna Trollope wrote The Choir set in a cathedral; it wasn't actually named but its identity was obvious even so and she had a serious problem with an unfortunately-named cleric.

Then too there is a problem about specific locations. Once you're dealing with an actual town, readers are delighted to pounce on inaccuracies: 'But you can't see the post office if you're standing outside the pub.' Unless the setting for the book is right on the doorstep you can't pop out every ten minutes to check details like that and with a fictional town, the post office can be wherever the plot demands it should be. And you can add fun things to the town centre, like an interesting statue, say, that has serious significance for your character.

But as I've often said here, the sense of place is very important in my books so I have worked out a compromise. The places where I set the action will be fictional, but they will have a very precise real location, in an empty space on the map; I'll mention the real places round about and describe scenery exactly as you'd see it from that position, and my fictional village will have a lot of the characteristics (though not the specifics) of the real village next door.

Readers seem happy to accept this, though one did point out that when I'd said my character was driving east along a road, surely it ought to have been west. I had to admit that once in response to someone telling me that a building was on the north side of a street, I had asked, 'Is that when you're going up or coming down?' so it was more a brain problem than a continuity one.

My piece de resistance, though, was creating a whole island for Evil for Evil. Just a modest little island, not like, say, Australia. It just had a bothy, a ruined chapel and some ancient Norse graves and it had a causeway across to the mainland at low tide.

This too had a very specific location - the Isles of Fleet, just off the coast of Galloway. I found it when I was one of my trips looking for the sort of inspiration I wrote about in my last post. It was an enchantingly pretty setting - just a chain of tiny uninhabited islands, some no more than grass-covered rocks, and it seemed so natural to add another on to the end that when I think of them now, I see my own Lovatt Island along with them, looking just as real.

This isn't my island – unfortunately they haven't yet developed the technology for producing photographs of imaginary objects – but use your own imagination and add another island, slightly smaller, a little bit to the left. Pretty, isn't it?


Roland Clarke said...

I'm working on a crime mystery series set in North Wales. For the first book, I created a fictional village in Snowdonia, which has given me a lot of freedom. However, beyond the fictional I have the real towns, including Harlech where I used to live.

But the main character/detective is based at Porthmadog, a real town that I got to know a bit. Fortunately, I can use Google maps to fill in some gaps - now that I live in the US

Aline Templeton said...

The Google maps can be really useful - I've found that too. And I used to live right on the border with North Wales, in Oswestry, Roland!

Susan D said...

Interesting food for thought, Aline. When I set a story in Toronto, I can't exactly make up a fictional large city on Lake Ontario. Luckily, I can make up streets and businesses. :^)

Aline Templeton said...

Oh, why not, Susan! I'm sure you could find a space somewhere... :)