Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Guest Paula Martin: Settings for My Novels
Today I welcome Paula Martin and her contemporary romance, His Leading Lady, set in the London theater world. We all grit our teeth if an author makes the obvious mistake of placing the Eiffel Tower in Germany. But there are lots of other location errors authors can make. Here she talks about how important setting is to her novels.
Many years ago, some scenes for a major British film were shot in my home town. We watched some of the filming one evening. When the film was shown the following year, of course we went to see it. In one scene, a bus pulls up outside the Town Hall. You could sense the reaction all over the cinema, with people muttering ‘Buses don’t stop there.’ In that split second, the illusion was lost as people with a personal knowledge of the location were distracted by an inaccuracy.
A minor detail, I know, but it has stayed with me, over 40 years later. I’ve read similar inaccuracies in books – someone looks out from the White House and sees Pennsylvania Avenue beyond the Washington Monument (wrong, the Monument is south of the White House, and PA Ave is north), someone gets a train from Victoria Station in London to travel to Edinburgh (nope, you’d have a long time to wait at Victoria for a train to anywhere in the north of Britain!), someone pulls their car to a standstill in Quay Street, Galway (sorry, it’s in a traffic-free zone).
In my opinion, writers must always take into account of the fact that one or more of their readers will know the place(s) in their book(s) unless, of course, they are completely fictitious places. All the research in the world will probably not give you the information to avoid making an error which causes the reader to say ‘Buses don’t stop there’ (or similar).
This is why, so far, I have set my novels in places with which I’m familiar. ‘His Leading Lady’ is set mainly in London, which I know fairly well. ‘Fragrance of Violets’ is set mainly in the Lake District, an area I know intimately. My current WIP is set in Egypt. A year ago, that setting wouldn’t have occurred to me, but having spent two weeks in Egypt last autumn, I think (hope!) I absorbed enough to write reasonably authentically about Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. I’m having to do more research than, for instance, a novel set in the Lake District, but at least I have a basic knowledge on which to build.
When I was writing a fan fiction story, I set part of it in Galway in Ireland. I’d never been there and, to my knowledge, none of the people on the loop where I was going to post it had been there either. However, my ‘perfectionist’ streak (damn that Leo trait!) wouldn’t let me make it up. I wanted to make sure my setting was accurate, so I went over to Galway for a few days. I did my characters’ walk from the Cathedral to Eyre Square and then down Quay Street to Claddagh harbour. Maybe I could have done that on a street map or even with Google earth but it wouldn’t have been the same. I was able to absorb not only the sights, but also the sounds and smells, as well as the whole atmosphere of the place.
In short, I find it much easier to describe a place if I've experienced it for myself. Not simply to avoid basic inaccuracies, but also to help my readers to experience it too. I admire those writers who can use settings with which they’re not personally familiar, but I need to feel comfortable with my setting. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I’m reluctant to write a historical novel, despite being a historian by profession. I know I could research and/or use my imagination but somehow I wouldn’t have the same ‘feel’ for the place as I have with places I’ve actually visited.
Current release: ‘His Leading Lady’ published June 2011 by Whiskey Creek Press (www.whiskeycreekpress.com)
Blurb: Jess Harper’s predictable life is turned upside down when she discovers that Lora, her twin sister, has disappeared. It’s just a week before rehearsals are due to start for a new West End musical in which Lora has the lead role. Jess decides to pose as her sister in order to save Lora's career. This brings her into close contact with arrogant theatre director Kyle Drummond. Attraction sparks between them but there’s also evidence that he had been dating Lora. So is Jess simply a substitute – in real life as well as in the show? And what will happen when Lora eventually returns?
Excerpt from Jess’ first meeting with Kyle Drummond:
He turned towards her and Jess’s breath caught in her throat. Broad forehead, high cheekbones, wide mouth and strong jaw all combined to make him the most devastatingly attractive man she had ever seen. Then she realised that her own astonishment was reflected in the dark eyes that met hers.
“Good lord,” he said. “For a moment I thought you were –”
“Lora.” Jess gave a small smile. She was used to this reaction. “Yes, we’re very alike, Mr Drummond. In looks, at least.” She knew that both she and Lora had inherited their finely sculpted features and dark hair from their Italian mother, but it was their father’s Irish genes that had given them their startling hyacinth blue eyes that were such a contrast to their otherwise Italian looks.
The man’s gaze slowly travelled the full length of her body and Jess glanced down at her short peach skirt and her silky cream top. Suddenly she wished it wasn’t quite so low-cut and that it didn’t reveal so much of her cleavage. She looked up again and found his shrewd dark eyes studying her.
“Yes, you’re definitely twins. But you’re slimmer than Lora,” he said candidly, “and your hair’s longer.”
Her natural cordiality cooled at his blatant appraisal of her figure. “I don’t like being inspected, Mr Drummond.”
“Why not?” Eyebrows raised, he appeared totally unabashed. “You’re a beautiful woman. Why not be proud of that? Your sister certainly is.”
“Lora and I are two very different people,” Jess said coolly, “and I don’t take kindly to a complete stranger assessing me on some ten point scale.”
“So how many points did you give me?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“How many points?” he repeated. “When you were inspecting me from the back of the shop?” Wry amusement flashed in his eyes. “You must have stood there for a good two minutes. I saw your reflection in the shop window.”
“Oh!” An embarrassed flush crept to her cheeks. “I – er –”
“Don’t apologise and I won’t either,” he said easily.
Quickly she reverted to the cool approach. “Obviously I don’t need to introduce myself, and I assume you’re Kyle Drummond.”
“Yes. Where the hell is Lora?”
The abrupt demand threw her off balance again. “Wh-what do you mean?”
“Your sister – where is she? I’ve spent the last three days trying to track her down, and then trying to find you.” He made it sound as if it was all her fault.
Jess frowned. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Would you explain please?”
Kyle Drummond fixed her with an intense gaze. “Don’t cover for her, Ms. Harper. If your sister thinks she can play silly little games with me, she’d better think again. And so had you.”
Jess stared at him, completely taken aback. “Excuse me, Mr Drummond,” she said, more calmly than she felt, “but before you start issuing your orders and threats, I repeat – I simply don’t understand what you’re talking about.”
She met his gaze steadily although her heart had started to race. She wasn’t sure whether it was sudden concern about Lora, or whether it was more to do with those dark eyes that still rested on her.
Website: http://paulamartinromances.webs.com/ Personal Blog: http://paulamartinpotpourri.blogspot.com/ Writers Blog (with 4 other writers): http://heroineswithhearts.blogspot.com/