A sense of place…..

March 14th, 2012

For the next six weeks I’ll be blogging as Writer in Residence at Creative Canterbury’s Little Blue Hut on Tankerton slopes in Whitstable. With its candy-striped beach huts and huge open skies, this part of Whitstable has a very special sense of place. So I’m going to kick off with a short series of blogs on a ‘sense of place’ in fiction. Now that we live in a world where IKEA’s Ektorp sofas can be found everywhere from a Rome apartment to a Highland cottage, is a sense of place more important than ever? I’ll be asking other authors for their tips, too.

My novel with a strongest sense of place is The Inheritance, set among the orchards and fields of Kent. From the hawthorn blossom of spring to the blackberries and rosy apples of autumn, it’s a story tied to horses, the countryside and the seasons. The biting east wind, the sound of horses’ hooves clattering across stone and the sense of isolation and menace that you get in a country storm are all integral to the story.

But I think it was easier to inject that ‘sense of place’ because I had only just moved to Kent from London, and I was excited by the differences: by being in ancient houses which had had been added onto over the centuries instead of rows of London terraces. I loved the feeling that I could almost touch the past because changes are made so slowly in the countryside. Now I have been here for eight years, I wonder if I could write about it in the same way.

As I’m blogging from a beach hut, my first guest author is Veronica Henry, whose evocative novel, ‘The Beach Hut’, is set in Devon, about several families and their beach huts. She likes to write about places ‘where I would like to be or live’ rather than where she actually does live.

‘I think it’s my job as a writer to transport people somewhere else, if only for a short while, and to paint as vivid a picture as possible with words. My husband and I once went to view a manor house that was way out of our budget, just for fun, and by the end of the viewing I had a whole plot for a novel mapped out in my head.’

Veronica says it’s often the little things that convey ‘a sense of place’ rather than the big views: ‘I can go somewhere breathtaking but be totally uninspired, and then something small will trigger an idea.’ I agree – I think one sentence on the smell of hay and linseed oil will transport the reader to the stables as quickly and effectively as a whole, long description of the stables themselves. What do you think? Do leave a comment or tweet me on @ninabellbooks.

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