Writing a Setting

Writing_a_Setting

Whether it’s the country in which your whole story takes place, or a small boat where just one conversation occurs, I’ve learned that the setting can make all the difference.

Love Boat

There are lots of options open to authors of fiction, even more for those of science fiction or fantasy, and yet when I’m enthusiastically scribbling down a first draft I still have to remind myself not to always necessarily go with my first idea. When coming up with a scene I now ask myself:

Does this scene (for example, an argument between two characters) have to have to occur on the living room sofa?

If so – fine, but what if they were actually on an aeroplane, or a remote mountain top, or in a shop selling lingerie? Would that make the scene more interesting/dramatic/awkward?

Mountain topAs Ra’s al Ghul says to Bruce Wayne in the film Batman Begins:

Always mind your surroundings.

As a starting point it is generally easier to write about places I’ve been to, or have experience of. Three of my books are set in Wildham, a fictional town somewhere north of London, but the town of my imagination is based on bits and pieces of real places – the market square, pubs and coffee shops – that I know well. Similarly Southwood’s Garden Centre, which features in Safe With Me, is fictional, but based on personal experience. My aunt and uncle built up their own successful nursery and garden centre from nothing, and I worked part-time in a garden centre for several years. I know first-hand the relaxed satisfaction of planting up hanging baskets; the tedium of dead-heading endless trays full of bedding plants, and the hours spent watering pots in the heat of the summer.

Dahlias

But for me the most exciting aspect of choosing a setting, is the opportunity to introduce somewhere I’ve always wanted to experience myself – it gives me the perfect excuse to go there. The roof-top garden cafe that appears in Safe With Me, was based on my visit to the Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden Bar & Cafe at the Southbank Centre in London. I wanted to find a little oasis in the city; a metaphorical bridge between the greasy spoon that Rina has spent years working in, and James’s plans for a semi-rural idyll in Wildham. By going to the location myself I could soak up the atmosphere; make notes on the way it looked, smelled and sounded, and take photos to aid my memory. I could also sit there and mentally conjure up my characters; imagine what they might think or say, and picture how their body language might betray their feelings. I fear I must look a little crazy at times, when I’m focusing inwards and listening to my imaginary friends – ahem, I mean characters – but I try not to let it stop me.

Rural Dining

Of course much of this ‘research’ doesn’t feature in the finished book, but hopefully it informs the writing and makes the world I create, more immersive for the reader. What do you think? Do you agree? Do let me know. And if you get the chance to visit London in summer, I would highly recommend the Southbank.

NB – This post was first published exactly a year ago by the wonderful Sharon of Shaz’s Book Blog – thank you Sharon!! The original post can be viewed here: http://shazsbookblog.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/the-write-stuff-with-grace-lowrie.html

Taking Risks With Your Writing

When I wrote my first novel it was purely for my own pleasure. I had no intention of letting anyone else read it, no concerns about fitting into a genre or potential marketability and certainly no expectations of getting published. I wrote because a story had sprung up in my imagination, the characters wouldn’t stop talking, and I needed to get it all out of my head! No one was more surprised than me when, following an author-friend’s recommendation, I was offered a publishing contract. I still consider it a wonderfully brave decision on the part of Accent Press.
Taking Risks With Your WritingKindred Hearts is ostensibly an erotic romance novel – the story of a woman in love with her best friend’s brother – but that’s not all it is. At the time I created it, I had not read much in that genre, and with hindsight I think that afforded me a certain amount of freedom – to tell a story not guided by the usual ‘rules’ of romance. For anyone who hasn’t read the book, I won’t give too much away, but there is a third character, the protagonist’s best friend, who has equal, if not more prominence, than her brother, the male lead. Her name is Celeste.
Neither heroine nor villain, Celeste is attention-seeking, damaged and refuses to be sidelined, and yet, several years on, she remains one of my all-time favourite characters. But Kindred Hearts isn’t for everyone – the writing is raw, the sex scenes are graphic and the ending isn’t so much ‘happy’ as ‘bitter sweet’. So, where to go from there?
Ideas bookcaseHaving accidentally dipped my toe into the world of book publishing and inadvertently joined a vast online community of bookaholics and authors, I quickly gained a far greater understanding of the benefits of writing stories with potential readers in mind, and of sticking to genre. As a reader myself I appreciate having certain expectations fulfilled by a book – when real life is turbulent there is temporary comfort and reassurance to be found by escaping into a fictional love story, secure in the knowledge that you will be rewarded with a Happy Ever After. From a practical and financial standpoint it is also far easier to market a book to the right readers, if the genre is clearly defined – it’s common sense.
Wildham SeriesArmed with this new awareness and with a potential audience firmly in mind, I sat down to write a series of three new novels. And I am pleased with result, proud of the Wildham Series and excited to have people read these books, despite my characters persistently rebelling as I wrote them. Ultimately I have to write the stories I want to write, and these latest works, though romantic, seem to dance under the umbrella of Contemporary Women’s Fiction, due to the heavy themes involved. What can I say? I like a bit of grit to my fictional relationships – a dash of darkness to better emphasise the light – and I’ll always be a sucker for a juicy twist.
At the time of writing this, only Safe With Me, the first book of the series has been released, with the next, Before We Fall, due out in August, but I’m delighted to report that so far most of my readers’ feedback has been positive. I fully admit that I am still finding my feet as an author, but enjoying the process immensely. So do I regret the raw honesty of my debut novel?
Kindred Hearts, blue shelfNo. Sure it could do with a little polishing, and it will probably never make me rich, but I remain proud of it’s originality and like to think of it as the rough diamond in my collection – the black sheep if you will – full of glamour and sweet longing and skating dangerously close to taboo. My first, wayward, child.
Are you a writer? Have you written a story that colours outside the lines? If so how do you feel about it? And if you are a reader looking for something a bit different, maybe give Kindred Hearts a try and let me know what you think! 😉

Using Undercurrents to Lift a Story

What do I mean by undercurrents? I write women’s fiction, mainly romance, so each story has an exploration of love at its core and the promise of a Happy Ever After at its end. But I want each book to have its own unique sense of atmosphere – that almost intangible, often emotional, awareness that stays with you long after you have finished the book. While this is created by a number of different factors, such as the plot, the style of writing, the setting, the personalities of the characters, the weather and so on, there is a subtler tool that you can also employ.threadsMost people refer to this as a motif: imagery or symbolism that is repeated throughout a narrative. I call it an undercurrent because of the way it weaves and threads its way through a story, like a secret message, often hinting at something sinister or unexpected to come.undercurrentsFor example in Kindred Hearts, the undercurrent I chose was water – not the refreshing, life-giving aspect of the element, but rather the lurking, conductive, slippery power of water and its potential threat. Near the start of the book my characters are innocently playing in the water as children, but as the story progresses the water resurfaces, several times and with varying degrees of menace – like waves eating away at sand – right through to the epilogue. It isn’t a theme I expect a reader to consciously pick up on, but my hope is that it underpins the atmosphere and helps tie the story together.

seedlingsSo what other motifs tease a reader’s subconscious? Aside from the remaining three elements (earth, air and fire), there are an unlimited variety of objects, actions, sounds, colours and phrases that can be employed as symbols. For instance in Safe With Me I use plants to echo my main characters’ struggle to put down roots and grow, and in the second book of my Wildham series, Before We Fall (due to be published August 2018) I use the colour scarlet to hint at blood, sex and death.scarlet motifThere is often more than one undercurrent running through a story, and if you are a writer you may find that they develop naturally through your writing anyway, but I suspect the key is to be both subtle and consistent.

Which undercurrents run through your favourite book?

Where to Write?

I am lucky enough to have a dedicated space in which to write – a desk by a window where I can gaze out at the sky and idly watch the birds in the trees while I juggle (or wrestle) with words in my mind. Inspiring objects and images clutter the windowsill; I have a laptop-stand to raise my screen to an appropriate height; and my chair, although not fancy or ergonomic, is relatively comfortable. When time is short, as it usually is, my desk is a suitable, convenient and efficient place to write.

Girl WritingAnd yet, some days, the urge to sit there is oddly lacking.

On these occasions a change of scenery is called for, and even a small one can make all the difference. In colder months I might only stumble as far as the living room sofa, and on really dark, wet days you’ll find me snuggled up in bed in a nest of cushions and blankets with my laptop propped on my knees. But when the sun is shining my favourite place to write is my back door step. Leaving modern technology behind I will take a notebook, a pen and a hot cup of coffee and perch in a patch of sunshine – scribbling down notes to the ambient sound of birds, trains and lawn mowers.

Writing in Bed

If this doesn’t work and the ideas are still not flowing, it’s time to go for a walk. It may only be a quick zip to the postbox and back, or a stroll through the park, but if time allows I really enjoy a wander through my local nature reserve; absorbing the green tranquillity of the woods and the calm of the water, while fictional characters hold conversations in my head. Before long I have to find somewhere to sit – a bench or log – and get pen onto paper, while the words are fresh in my mind. Many planned, extended walks have been curtailed by the urge to write.

Al Fresco Writing

In general I prefer quiet in which to work – to better hear the inner voices – but if it’s fresh human inspiration I need; coffee shops, libraries, art galleries and train stations are great places to people watch. I tend to get too distracted to achieve much actual writing, but I know many writers who thrive on the buzz of such social spaces.

Art Gallery

One of the perks of writing fiction is that I can pick a setting that I’ve always wanted to go to, and actually go there – write in situ, as it were. It’s a real kick, if a little weird, going somewhere and imagining my characters right there with me. I’m able to incorporate the details of the place – the way it smells, sounds, tastes – directly into my story, which hopefully lends some authenticity. So far I haven’t used my writing as an excuse to visit an exotic, far-flung country, but I fully intend to one day.

Girl on Swing

Writing’s often a solitary practice and if you’re anywhere near as introverted as me, I’d recommend using your writer status to get yourself out and about in the world. You don’t necessarily have to start conversations with strangers, but write anywhere you can and don’t forget to enjoy it.

Where do you write? Where would you recommend? I’d love to know.