When Lily invited me to write another guest post for her blog, I was keen to do it, but wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to write about. I was up to my eyeballs in editing my second novel and was trying to do some filming for the Makarelle TikTok account (yes, we have one, yes my 15yo thinks its mortifying that his mother is taking part in this, yes you should check it out – we have lots of writing prompts and top tips on there!). I couldn’t think about anything beyond that or my head was going to explode.
Ironically, it was filming those thirty second videos that gave me the idea for the blog. I want to talk about Location. For me, landscape and location is incredibly important – so important in fact, that I wrote a whole essay on in it for my MA – when I’m reading I’m far more interested in a description of the landscape than I am in what the characters look like. Kate Mosse and Daphne du Maurier are both masters of this art, as, albeit in a different way, is Terry Pratchett. With each of these three authors, you don’t just get a sense of the places their books are set. You can see them, hear them and in the case of Ankh-Morpork – smell them! You are immediately drawn into their world and inhabit the landscape you are reading.
‘Poets have tried to describe Ankh-Morpork. They have failed. Perhaps it's the sheer zestful vitality of the place, or maybe it's just that a city with a million inhabitants and no sewers is rather robust for poets, who prefer daffodils and no wonder. So let's just say that Ankh-Morpork is as full of life as an old cheese on a hot day, as loud as a curse in a cathedral, as bright as an oil slick, as colourful as a bruise and as full of activity, industry, bustle and sheer exuberant busyness as a dead dog on a termite mound.’ (Mort, Terry Pratchett)
‘It was a cold grey day in late November. The weather had changed overnight, when a backin wind brought a granite sky and a mizzling rain with it, and although it was now only a little after two o’clock in the afternoon the pallor of a winter evening seemed to have closed upon the hills, cloaking them in mist. It would be dark by four. The air was clammy cold, and for all the tightly closed windows it penetrated the interior of the coach. The leather seats felt damp to the hands, and there must have been a small crack in the roof, because now and again little drips of rain fell softly through, smudging the leather and leaving a dark-blue stain like a splodge of ink. The wind came in gusts, at times shaking the coach as it travelled round the bend of the road, and in the exposed places on the high ground it blew with such force that the whole body of the coach trembled and swayed, rocking between the high wheels like a drunken man.’ (Jamaica Inn, Daphne du Maurier)
‘The small square was bordered by buildings on three sides and shaded by lime trees. The golden sunlight filtered down through the canopy of leaves, casting chequerboard patterns on the ground. There was a water trough for the horses and the respectable town houses were adorned with window boxes filled with the last of the tumbling summer flowers. At a small café with striped awnings, a collection of well-dressed, well-gloved ladies and their escorts were taking refreshment. In the corner was the approach to a modest church.’ (Sepulchre, Kate Mosse)
In my own writing, I take a lot of inspiration from the places I visit. I wrote a short story inspired by an overheard conversation in a local café. My first novel was, in part, inspired by a visit to Beth Chatto Gardens. I had a vision of someone walking in, seeing someone sat on a bench and instantly falling in love. My second novel began life after seeing the ruins of Ellen Willmott’s house during a visit to Warley Place nature reserve. It stalled after a few thousand words and then morphed into something entirely different after I stayed at Northmoor House on a writing retreat. The Warley Place story still wants to be written, I just need to work out what it is! My current WIP was inspired by a particular section of saltmarsh near where I live and I began writing it during the last lockdown when we were limited to travel in our local area. Other locations in my hometown have also been pressed into service for this novel and as I was working on the videos for Makarelle more ideas for stories were coming to me and these have been added to my ‘story ideas’ notebook for later use.
Why not try it in where you live? Take a walk around the streets and ask yourself questions about the places or people you see. Every time I go somewhere new, I’m on the look out for inspiration and ideas for stories set there. However, sometimes, looking a little closer to home can be just as productive. All the videos below were shot within a ten minute walk of my house (one of them was actually in my garden!) and the questions on them were designed to get people thinking about how those locations could be used to develop a story.
Ruth was born in Saltaire, West Yorkshire but grew up in Cleveleys, Lancashire. She graduated from Exeter University in 2000 and qualified as a Religious Studies teacher in 2001. Having met her husband at university, they got married and moved to the South East - him to do his MA and her to start her teaching career.
She worked full time as a teacher, writing odd bits here and there whenever she found the time, in between the job, the dogs, the husband and the small boy who was added to their family in 2005.
In 2014 Ruth gave up teaching to become a full time writer, but after a few months, life decided it had other plans for her and she went back to running around after another small boy. At the same time, the family moved to the Essex coast and started building their family life in a new town.
The only writing she was doing at this point, was a travelogue style Facebook page, run on behalf of their youngest son, which kept friends, family and a few strangers abreast of all the weird and wonderful things he was getting up to. When the littlest member of the family started pre-school, it was time for Ruth to dust off the fountain pen and notebooks and start writing again. She decided to study for an MA in Creative Writing with the Open University and in December she graduated with a merit.
Since then Ruth's finished the novel she started during the first year of the course and she is now looking for an agent to represent that. She have also completed the first draft of a second novel and is now doing a Novel In A Year course to work on the third.