I tend to think of my books in scenes, I am one of those writers whose books play out like a movie in my head. So, like a movie, when a plot builds up in my head it will cut from one scene to another and some have bridges and links to lead into them, some do not. But as to where I set those scenes, well they are a mix of imagination and facts.
I enjoy researching and thinking about history, I always have, so not just to research books but also for pleasure, I visit loads of historic houses and places (great to be able to do something you enjoy for work. Speak to Confucius if you don’t believe me, he said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life” It’s my motto).
Well obviously then, if I visit places, the sets for my scenes are frequently drawn from these. Some are an outright copy and I think of a room I have been in and capture descriptions of that in scenes. Sometimes my imagination mixes different places up.
There’s a staircase in the country home in my first book, which is a mix of two I have seen, they are both really dark oak, 16th Century staircases, which look really solid, and they are set in small square halls, unlike those huge Georgian halls in the Palladian houses.
One is at Ashdown house, which is owned by the National Trust and the other is at a privately owned stately home, Broughton Castle near Banbury. Although my imagined stairwell is a bit wider than these.
Then there’s the courtyard at the same property, it’s really an imagined space, but the house is one which has a central medieval keep, which the above staircase is supposed to be inside. My courtyard inspiration initially came from Appleby Castle, although my imagined space looks nothing like this, it merely gave me the idea. Since then I have stayed at Chillingham Castle, which had a central courtyard (and incidentally is meant to have loads of ghosts, a very scary stay), and visited Sudeley Castle, and both these courtyards added to my imagined space.
Then of course there are scenes when you speak of a real place, and this calls for less imagination and more accuracy, for me this is largely Hyde Park in London, so I have visited there and had a really good wander around, many times.
Do you always need to see places though to be able to set a scene somewhere? Well I’d say, no. I was recently asked to write a story set in America, so I’ve been researching this, and someone said to me, “Well, you’ll have to go to the city you want to set it in”. But these days I think not, not now we have the wonderful gift of the internet. It’s amazing what you can find out, I’ve found descriptions of sounds going on around you when you visit a place, and also what goes on when you’re there, described in travel blogs. Then of course there is Google earth, which means you can look at places on the map, then move the little yellow man and position him in a street and see the view as you’d see it if you were walking along it. A brilliant gift for a writer trying to see what a place looks like.
Well if you read that book once I’ve written it you can tell me if my theory that you don’t need to visit places to set a scene works…
My debut novel is due to be published 2nd May 2013 Sapphire Star Publishing are the publisher. If you want to find out more got to http://www.janelark.co.uk/ like me on Facebook or follow me on twitter @janelark