A sense of place

How important is the place where you set your book or story? Very important I would say, vital even in some cases.

If varies from book to book of course but there are novels where the place where the story is set becomes almost an extra character in the drama – and perhaps my book Song of the Sea God is one of those.

A strong sense of place is a fine thing to have in a book I would say. It’s not achieved by never-ending descriptions of the scenery, but by allowing the feel of the environment to permeate the people and the story, allowing  the nature and character of the setting to have a bearing on the action.

41eMuQLZJSL__I had a think about books where this works particularly well and one which immediately springs to mind is Waterland by Graham Swift. This book, set in the Fens area of South East England is a modern classic and I would urge you to give it a look if you have not done so already.

The spirit of the fenlands issues from the novel so strongly that you can almost feel the damp chill rising from the page. The place in the book is beautifully drawn and affecting but more than that, it influences the people who inhabit the story – it provides some of their motivation, explains aspects of their character.

41mjW4FdUGL__SX385_There are many other examples of course. Can you imagine Gabriel Garcia Marques setting his magic realist masterpiece 100 Years of Solitude in a council estate in Birmingham? It needs its heat, its jungles, its clouds of butterflies, and of course its solitude.

housekeepingAnother good example is Marilynne Robinson’s wonderful novel Housekeeping where the emptiness and open spaces of America, the small towns, the yearning to leave, the ability to just disappear like a ghost into the big country, permeate the book and its characters.

In Song of the Sea God I chose the island where I was born to set the book – Walney off the coast of Cumbria in the UK. It is a place I know well but a 432px-William_wordsworthremembered place rather than my current home.

Wordsworth, who lived a few short miles away in the Lake District, talked about poetry being ‘emotion recollected in tranquility.’ and I suppose my impressionistic view of Walney Island in the book is based on that idea.

I took the stark, often beautiful scenery and put it in the book and I remembered the way the bleakness, the isolation, the rigours of the place, can affect the people, lending them a certain stoicism.

What are your favourite books with a strong sense of place? Please tell us about them in the comments.

Song of the Sea God visualDon’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

First reviews

The first reviews are starting to come in on Amazon now for Song of the Sea God – and thank you to the readers out there who are taking the time and trouble to say what they think about the book.

You can see the reviews, and read the first few pages of the book here.

And readers in the USA can get it on Barnes and Noble here.

There were a couple of comments that I particularly related to from the reviews.

One was that the novel has a strong sense of place.

I’ve already said my piece about the book being set on Walney Island in the north-west of England where I grew up – but not really. I took the liberty of using the island’s geography for my own purposes but making it the place I needed it to be and populating it with my own characters. So it’s not Walney – but  having that island in my head helped me massively in writing the book.

I’ve always been fond of books which do ‘sense of place’ well. It’s very important I think, it adds to the richness of the reading experience. Here’s my tip for a book which does this brilliantly – Waterland by Graham Swift. It’s masterful and beautiful. The place, in this case The Fens, percolates through the whole book and influences the characters, the action, everything. I would recommend the book to you if you have not read it. If I have achieved a fraction of what Swift did in Waterland on my island then I am a happy writer.

Another comment which made me very chuffed was that Sea God was refered to as a ‘page turner’.

That’s a particularly pleasing thing to hear about a literary novel. I had in my mind that I wanted to preserve the depth and the quality of writing that readers of literary fiction demand and expect, while at the same time making sure the book held the reader with its story.

I wanted to create a literary novel with the pace and plot of a thriller. Which, I accept, is a bit like wanting your cake and eating it. Did I come somewhere near succeeding? I would be delighted if you read the book and let me know.