Monday, 17 November 2014

GETTING INTO THE WORLD OF A STORY



As a reader of many books, there's nothing I love more than immersing myself in a new world - the world of the story I'm reading. Whether it's a unique time period, geographical place, season of the year or even some weird fantasy world, I can't continue reading unless the author's creation of that world with all its unique details, its sights, sounds, smells, language, mood and atmosphere - absolutely transports me right there.
The Ancient Martian world

One of the first books that really achieved that for me in my earlier reading days was The Martian Chronicles by the great Ray Bradbury, whose achingly beautiful descriptions of the ancient Martian landscape and its subsequent settlement by the Earth travellers spoke volumes about the destructive effects of colonization.


Hilary Mantel's brilliant Wolf Hall, lures you skilfully into the world of 16th century London by using incredible sensory images that take you into Thomas Cromwell's mind, so that you view the events unfolding around him just as he would.

In The Little Stranger by the amazing Sarah Waters the reader is gradually drawn into the dark, post-war world of a decaying stately home where a family struggles to hold on to their dwindling upper class status. The eerie atmosphere gradually escalates into chilling horror, from which the reader is powerless to escape.



As a writer, creating the world of my story is one of the most important aspects of writing the book. Much of a writer's early pre-writing research involves getting a feel for that world. Sometimes you're fortunate to have lived in and experienced the world of your story, as in The Pitman's Daughter. Childhood memories of the street my grandmother lived in, helped me write about the fictitious Crag Street, and those childhood memories are often charged with powerful emotional associations. I was able to conjure up sharp images from memory of how the place looked, smelled, and felt. It's a very strange sensation when you're writing those kind of stories. You emerge from the experience feeling as if you've been transported away into another time and place.
For Unnatural and A Proper Lady (both out for submission to publishers), the challenge was greater. To recreate the Victorian world of both novels required a great deal of reading: newspapers from the era to get a feel for the mind set of the period; books written about the period, during the period; websites devoted to the era like Lee Jackson's wonderful Dictionary of Victorian London, which contains authentic articles about every aspect of Victorian life.

Watching documentaries can be helpful. For A Proper Lady, I watched a wonderful BBC documentary, The Victorian Farm in which three historians recreate life for an entire year on a farm as lived in the Victorian era. Films like this provide amazing and authentic detail for a writer.

Lilah's cabin
When writing contemporary stories, a familiar world can be enriched by adding very specific details. My work in progress, Lilah, is set in Northern Minnesota - a place very familiar to me - but to add authenticity to the world of my characters, I often collect a series of photographs that portray the homes, workplaces and general milieu of the characters. This allows me to picture them interacting with their setting. It's like going on holiday with out spending anything!!


The woods near Lilah's place