Friday 15 May 2015


by Marie-Louise Jensen

I love having a real place to set my books. It helps me see the story playing out if I know the place. I used real settings which I named in my first two books. A little tricky, because I was then bound to the real history of the place. I made freer with my Icelandic books. I knew the places, but I didn't name them. So I was free to visualise the bay and hillsides, but could play a little with them.

In Runaway, I needed a big stately home for my setting. I chose Dyrham Park, which was just the right era, built in the early Georgian period, but wary of my experience of using Farleigh Castle, I renamed it Deerhurst Park. Now I had all the freedom I could want, to explore the beautiful setting on visits and imagine it, but without tying myself to its actual history and the people who lived there.

I could imagine the horses and carriages travelling down the wide sweep of the carriageway into the picturesque park. I could place characters at the lodge house (now a ticket office). I could describe negotiating a team of horses through the sharp turn into the gates and the archway into the stableyard:
I even knew what the stable yard was like - though it's now a tea room and a shop; as mentioned in an earlier post:
Here, I was able to imagine tethering and grooming the horses, harnessing them, riding them in and out, even walking them when they had colic. And I could imagine and describe all the daily coming and going of a busy stable yard and the people who once worked there.
I even felt familiar with the gardens and the view of the back of the house, which the servants would have crossed to go to church on Sundays:

An image of Dyrham Park even made the back cover of the paperback. So it's an open secret, but I still got to invent my own people and story for the place. 
I'm sure other authors can successfully use imagined settings, but I definitely find real ones easier and more vivid. And it gives me an excuse to post all these lovely pictures. Perhaps the real secret is that when I visit these incredible places, I love to imagine what it must have been like to live there. I suspect that might be the basis of a lot of our historical fiction.
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Susan Price said...

I agree. Using a real place adds all the litte corners and detail that imagination alone might not come up with. But it's important for a novelist to have a little elbow room. I used the beautiful Stokesay Castle in my 'Christopher Uptake' but renamed it - in a similar way, my Sterkarms are loosely based on the real riding family, the Armstrongs - but not using real names for the family or locations set me free as a novelist.

Lydia Syson said...

All very true. Sometimes I think I have no imagination at all….! It's so lovely then to go to a place that's been real to you already through a book.