Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Is it, like, a real place or made up?

In fiction, it’s sometimes easy to work out if the place where the story is set is made up. Take Lord of the Rings, for example. Middle Earth came entirely from Tolkien’s mind. Okay, so it was based on Birmingham and the surrounding areas as Fiona Glass told us on Britwriters, but it still wasn’t a real place.

And it’s a fair bet that Terry Pratchett’s Discworld came from the dark corners of his mind.

The English county of Midsommer, from the novels/TV series Midsommer Murders, is (thankfully given the crime rate) a fictional place.

Yet, all of these places feel real. There are maps of all three locations. The Midsommer DVDs contain an interactive map (How do you know that Marc? You’re not a Midsommer Murders fan are you? Erm… Good question. Let move on.), Tolkien included maps of Middle Earth in his books, and there are maps of the Disc, Ankh-Morpork, Lancre and even Death’s Domain based on Terry’s books.

The Terry Pratchett thing is interesting. He always maintains that he’d never mapped out the disc, or Ankh-Morpork in his head. He just wrote the books and put stuff where it needed to be to tell the story. It was Stephen Briggs who came along and, with an old fashioned card index, mapped the place. Terry jokes that these days he has to refer to the maps to make sure he doesn’t redraw them when he writes a new book.

Why am I talking about this? Well, my work-in-progress, Chloe’s Education, is set in the fictional south-coast town of Westmouth. There is (according to Google) a Westmouth Bay in North Carolina, but you certainly won’t find the town of Westmouth on the English south coast. Same as you won’t find Westmouthshire on any map, or encounter any Westmouthshire Police officers, like my characters do.

But to me, now that I’ve been absorbed in this story for so long, Westmouth is a real place. I know where the best pubs are, how long it takes to get from the town center, up the hill to the university campus. I know what the library smells like, and I can hear the waves crashing on the beach.

And this is something I’m trying to add to the story in this second draft I’m working on. I want the reader to know Westmouth as I do. I want them to smell the sea in the air and hear the gulls when they wake up in the morning.

Westmouth exists – in my head and on my USB drive. And it will continue to exist, because I’ve fallen for the place, just like my hero Adam did when he first visited. And I’m planning to set more stories there in the future.

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