Sunday, June 10, 2007

Anna Campbell Sets the Scene

posted by Anna Campbell

Australia is a very new country, even newer than the United States or Canada. If you’re talking architecture, 100 years is old to us. I live in a 1928 Art Deco block of flats and that is considered heritage.

So what is a girl to do when she’s been in love with the past, the more distant the better, ever since she was a little kid reading fairytales?

A girl is to go to Britain as often as she possibly can! Even though the flight is awful and the exchange rate between the pound and the Aussie dollar is worse. When I need my history fix, I need my history fix! I’ll endure any pains, slog through any cold English rain, chat up any gorgeous Scotsmen (hmm, that’s REALLY suffering) just so I can see something built prior to 1900! I will suffer for my art!

As I write this, I’ve got a couple of days to wait before I board my big red and white Qantas jet and head off for London for a week followed by three weeks of wandering around England and Scotland. Am I excited? Did the Saxons cop a hiding at the Battle of Hastings?

I’m planning to scout locations and do a lot of research. I’m hoping to come up with a string of ideas for new stories. Experiencing the places where my characters live is so inspiring. Of course, I’m writing romance not a dissertation on the Highland Clearances or the position of women in Regency England. As a writer, I try to subscribe to the iceberg theory—at least 90% of what you know is floating underwater out of sight. Knowing the setting so well is for my benefit, really. I have to believe in the authenticity of the people and their world (although I’m sure I make mistakes—it’s almost impossible not to! And it’s always the little things that slip you up!) when I’m telling a story.

In Claiming the Courtesan, I use a lot of historical detail—hopefully with a light hand. But in my mind, it made those people flesh and blood as individuals of their time and setting.

To give you some examples, the Duchess of Kylemore’s cruel eviction of her tenants was based on the deliberate depopulation of the Highlands in the 18th and 19th centuries as the Scottish nobility decided they’d rather live the easy life in London. The easy life was expensive and wool was the boom industry so the landowners threw people off their crofts in preference for running sheep which were cheap and profitable. The castle and village at Inverathie are based loosely on Inveraray, the home of the Dukes of Argyll, in western Scotland. Just as a small detail, when you walk into the main hall, the walls are decorated with weaponry just as they are in my book. Here’s a link if you want to check out the similarities.

So now over to you. Have you ever been somewhere and found it inspired a whole new story? How important is setting in your writing? When you read a book, is the sense of place/history important to you? Is there somewhere you absolutely, positively have to visit for your current work in progress? Has a book ever inspired you to want to visit somewhere through the sheer power of the descriptions?


Keira Soleore said...

Oh, you poor dear. Having to endure rain just so you can chat up those gorgeous Scots. What a hardship. I'll exchange spots with you any day. Just say the word.

If you know it well and believe in it deeply, it'll come through 100%for the readers. Every one of those 10% words will be imbued with 100% of the landscape, emotions, culture...

How important is setting in your writing? When you read a book, is the sense of place/history important to you?

--A sense of place is just as important as the main characters. In fact, there's no story in a vacuum.

Is there somewhere you absolutely, positively have to visit for your current work in progress?

--London would be good. English countryside even better. In the next four weeks, if you ever feel that Seattle would be a better inspiration for you, just drop a line. :)

Anna Campbell said...

Snork (as some bandita who will not be named, Jeanne) says to Seattle! Actually, I'd love to see the west coast. Always looks gorgeous. I agree with you about the setting being like another character - that's exactly right! And I think there's something in your writing that sounds confident if you know a place you're writing about even if you keep description to a minimum.

Aunty Cindy said...

Foanna and Keira,
I'm so glad to hear you also believe setting is like a separate character! That's exactly the way I've been trying to portray it in my books. And so far, I've set my stories in places I have visited and LOVED (Venice, Capri and the Amalfi coast, Northern Ireland). I know I can't completely recreate the marvelous qualities of those places, but I can hope, as you've both said, that enough will come through for the readers to feel they have glimpsed those places.

Not sure what my next setting will be. Fortunately, I have a lot more wonderful locales to chose from.


Suzanne Welsh said...

Place definitely fits as a seperate entity in a book. An historical needs to take me back to that place in time. Small bits of description throughout the story and in dialogue really helps suspend that sense of reality.

Helen said...

Hi Anna
It has been raining here at home like cats and dogs parts of newcastle are flooded it has been a bad Queens Birthday long weekend but sounds like you will be having a ball and yes the descriptions of the castles and places in books are important to me it gives me a better sense of being there when I read a book and I would dearly love to visit the Scotish Highlands and all the old buildings around England and this has come from the descriptions in all the books I have read. The Scotish Higlanders in a kilt yummy you could probably use some of those Tim Tams on them LOL
Have Fun

Joan said...


I consider historical setting as being the sauce that flows around and through my story.

In THE PATRICIAN'S FORTUNE I have the hero describing the Forum not only in physical description but also in how it affects him. I tried to stay away from the trite "there were lots of columns" and added impressions of what actually went on there i.e. public debates etc.

I'm also careful to keep any key historical figures true enough but at the same time, not weigh down the story with facts. For example, TPF takes place at the beginning of Nero's reign. Now granted, the big N was never an Emperor who was playing with a full orchestra (just a fiddle :-) but at the beginning he was not as crazy as he ended up being. That was important as my hero acts in a manner that benefits him.

So the historical setting adds flavor to the story.

Christine Wells said...

Annaaaaa!!!! I'm London-pea-soup-fog-greeeeeen with envy! Although, at this season there won't be too many fogs over there. Have a wonderful time. I know you will come back inspired with many new stories to delight us.

I love England and I especially love the way the have preserved their history for us to marvel over. Enjoy!

Anna Sugden said...

As the resident Brit (even though I'm in NJ) - welcome to England! Hope it's treating you fabulously.

I loved your question about setting. Interesting that my critique group made a comment about one of my scenes that relates to this.

As you know, my current ms features a hero who is a professional hockey player (yes, he has all his teeth). The scene in question is early in the book and involves the hero and his close friends. I had them doing their summer training and going for a run. The scene worked well enough, but the suggestion was made to have them training on the ice.

A small change, but it made a world of difference. And showed the hero in his natural element.

Oh and researching this book has been fun! Apart from going to practices I've had a behind the scene tour at the arena where my team (New Jersey Devils!!) play and interviews with the team owner and one of the star players. It's made a huge difference to how I've been able to write the book - and, according to my cp's, it shows!


Beth said...

Creating a sense of place is very important to me when I am reading. I find that romance authors are very good at this, but when I read your post the two authors I thought of who do this very very well are not romance writers. Sharyn McCrumb sets her stories in Appalachia. Since I live there I can tell you that no one describes this area better than McCrumb. On top of telling great, moving, emotionally resonant stories her great love for the geography and culture of Appalachia comes through on every page. Savannah Georgia came alive in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, and was as much a character of that book as any of the people.

Keira Soleore said...

AnnaC, are your bags packed???

AC, might I suggest Martinique or Santorini as your next destination, er, setting for your book?

V.Anna, hobnobbing with those hunks, er, athletes sure seems to have been inspirational to your writing.

Pity I can't be transported two hundred years ago to schmooze with my earl.


Anna Campbell said...

Aunty Cindy and Suz, I really like books where I can almost touch the setting, it's so real. I was a great Mary Stewart fan when I was in my early teens. And I can still remember her vivid descriptions of places like the Greek Islands. I think books like that are at least partly responsible for my itchy feet!

Helen, the weather at home has been frightful! Strangely I haven't had a wet day here yet. Must be some kind of record! Hope you're OK. Some people I know in Newcastle have lost roofs, etc.

Anna Campbell said...

Joan, love how you talk about relating the setting to the emotional heart of the story. I think that's so important - it's never description for the sake of description. Christine, wish you were with me! I keep seeing places that I know you'd just love to death. Going to Chatsworth on Thursday (and I can hear the howls of envy from here - snork!).

Anna, aside from any opportunity for you to mention hockey players, I think that's really important that you get the setting right if you want to convey exactly the feeling you're after!

Anna Campbell said...

Beth, I haven't read either of those writers you mentioned, although MITGOgAE was hugely popular over here. I'll have to check them out. I love to learn about new places and a great writer is the best way to get to the heart of a location.

Keira, I'M HERE!!! Got here a week ago and had a lovely time wandering around London. Finally made it to John Soane's house which was fascinating - sort of like a Regency townhouse designed by someone on drugs. Well worth a visit!

Buffie said...

Ah, to be in jolly ole England for weeks would be satsifaction to me! Be sure to take a few pictures of those hot Scots.

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Buffie, get real! I meet a hot Scot, the first thing I think about will NOT be photography, believe m! Snork!