Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Settings - Turning Reality into another World

Taking a much needed walk with my family on New Year's Day reminded me how much I love where I live, and how much of those real life settings have become part of my writing. World building has to be one of my favourite parts of the writing process, and I'm lucky that I live in a small town, but close to the countryside and to the beach to escape. Colchester in the UK is Britain's oldest recorded market town and a place with a long and rich history. Once intended to be the Roman capital Camulodunum before being superceeded by Londinium, it was originally a Celtic settlement before the Roman invasion, then burned to the ground by Boudicca, the iconic queen of the Iceni. Colchester Castle is a Norman fort built on the ruins of a Roman temple, and now the town's museum. The town came under seige during the Second English Civil War, and nearby the medieval Layer Marney Tower once hosted Queen Elizabeth I. Colchester is a place seeped in blood, fire and changing cultures. How can that not be inspiring?

Take the photo above for example. To me it could be an alien planet. The mudflats of Mersea even inspired a scene in Keir's sequel, though it only takes up a page of the story. The desolate brown-grey surface with the ridges of water sparkling in the winter sun was an image that really stuck in my head.

A recent review for Keir commented that the reader wanted to stay on Metraxi. The tropical island of Kasha-Asor where Keir and Quin were 'imprisoned' came from lazy weekends spent on the beach at Frinton-on-Sea, just a half hour drive from my home.

And the bamboo groves instead of the  stereotypical palm trees? They were down to the wallpaper on my computer at the time. Just to prove inspiration can come from the strangest places and the smallest things.

With my latest release, the setting was already given by the anthology canon - a space station but with holographic suites that could become anything a visitor desired. Even then, a real life setting became the opening scene of Terms & Conditions Apply. Taken from a piece I originally did for my university course a couple of years ago, the meeting area began life as Culver Square in my home town, with its Romanesque style central fountain tying in nicely with the Roman goddess after which the space station was named - Venus. The fountain no longer works these days, but it lives on in the wasteful display of water Marie scorns as she sits in the meeting area of Venus Ascendant. The canon description - of a public area surrounded by shops and market stalls - seemed a perfect match with the real life setting for the town centre.

Culver Square in Colchester.
How much has the place where you live, or places you've travelled to, influenced the settings in your writing? Is there anywhere you haven't been that you'd like to? Have you ever gone somewhere just for the purpose of research, or was that just an excuse?

Pippa's Journal

I've nothing new to report on the writing front. Everything pretty much went on hold over the Christmas holiday, and my little monsters only returned to school yesterday. Most of my plans for this month involve revamping my Book Reviewers List, cleaning up and reorganizing all my social media sites, and the imminent edits for Gethyon. I'm waiting to hear back from my editor regarding Tethered, and for news on my sfr short story submission. I'm also hoping to increase the amount of guest blogging I do elsewhere, and to enter a few more contests over the year. Aside from that, I have two draft novellas which have the potential to become three, a decision to be made over Keir's sequel, and at least one more short story that I'd like to have completed and published this year. Think that should keep me out of mischief for a while...

What are your writing plans for the year ahead?

Some odd ones for you. First up, who wants to smell like a library? Think I'm joking? A company called Demeter have come up with a scent called Paperback which promises to smell like your favourite library or used book shop. If anyone gets it, let me know how it smells. :)

This is an interesting one, although I'm not sure how good a match it produces. BookRX will apparently match you to the perfect books based on your Twitter ID (using the hashtags from your tweets). You can test it out for yourself here.I have to say I hadn't heard of ANY of the books it recommended to me, although a couple of the author names were familiar. If you're looking for something different, perhaps this is the way to find it. Let me know if it gives you anything interesting.

For the stargazers among us, a handy guide to the meteor showers in 2013 with Meteorwatch.

With the end of Six Sentence Sunday rushing towards us, it has been proposed the Brigade run one of its own, to showcase the works of SFR authors. I'll be arranging a sign-up inlinkz on the SFR Brigade main blog, much like the one for the tagging parties (which are now on hold, pending this trial run of the blogging ring). Snippets should be one paragraph (approx 150-200 words) to go live late Friday (time zone to be decided but it'll be a US one most likely). Snippets will not be checked, so it's up to participants to make sure their posts are live and at the limit. As yet we're still discussing a name and hastags to be used - if in doubt, you can use the main SFR Brigade tag which is #sfrb. Those Brigade members who've taken part in SSS will be familiar with the idea, but feel free to ask any questions. It's all very informal and experimental for now, but the idea is not only to familiarize each other with examples of each other's work, but to hopefully entice readers to the genre. So, mutual promotion of the event is key! If you have any ideas, suggestions or even, dare I say it - complaints, please comment below or in the Facebook group.

Have you submitted to the SFR Brigade anthology yet? If not, there's still time. The deadline has been extended until the end of January. Hurry up!

My cover for Keir will be up on the You Gotta Read site and I need your votes! *flutters eyelashes* pretty please? It's #14 and will be up here from the 14th January. C'mon, it's a good looking guy with tatts - got to be worth a click. ;)

Ping Pong
Laurie, the first of anything is always special, but I can promise you I'm as excited about each release as I was the first...and probably a lot less nervous about it. I hope that feeling never goes away, but here's to a new batch of firsts!


  1. My world was born out of the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia. I've never been there, but I fell in love with pictures of them. They're AMAZING! From there I knew I wanted this planet to be recognizable to humans, but different at the same time.

    So I drew my inspiration from pictures of the fall color in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. I love mountains, but the Rockies and the the Cascades are so overdone. The trees on my hero's home world are always a riot of color.

  2. Great post, Pippa!! I loved the info about T&CA. I could totally picture that. Also...busy lady! Good luck with Keir in the cover contest! I've marked it on my calendar and blog calendar to vote for you!! :D

  3. Hi Rachel!
    Images of other beautiful places in the world are great for inspiration, aren't they? I loved the mountains in Austria when I went there. :)
    And aww, thank you, Karen!

  4. I once went to a specific area of S. Florida near Miami - Sunny Isles - to research a book. Not yet published. But usually, I try to set them in areas I know well. I've used Bamburgh beach in a book coming out in May and I need to go and take pics there! I also used Camber sands in a book and I'd never been, but went afterwards. Luckily I'd got it right. Thank goodness for google!

  5. Hmm, Google and the internet make research a lot easier. But sometimes I think you might miss the atmosphere of a place if you haven't been there. Mind you, images are one of the best prompts for inspiration. :)

  6. Pippa, love your photos.

    I have a character in one of my novels who's from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Now, it's a long way from New Mexico to the Canadian Arctic so I'll probably never make the trip before I publish the book (though I hope to get there someday), but there are a few things I've done to get a better "sense of place."

    And now I have a topic for my next blog.

  7. My husband and I took a road trip tracing the route of my characters from UNCHAINED MEMORY in reverse from upstate NY to West Virginia just to see if it worked the way I had written it. That was a lot of fun and I ended up tweaking the descriptions a bit. Of course, the challenge of writing SFR is that we must use what we HAVE seen to imagine what no one on this planet has EVER seen!

  8. Pippa, you're so right about missing out on the atmosphere of a place if you don't go there. That's very true for the biggest city in my state, New Orleans.

    I can always tell when a writer hasn't been to New Orleans. The atmosphere is missing. It's one of the noisiest cities in the world, and people don't believe it until they're walking down Canal and there's a 23-piece brass band on the corner playing jazz and you can hear them for eight or ten blocks in any direction. My crit partner's current WIP is set in New Orleans and she came down for a research trip last summer. She's been to Chicago numerous times but the noise of New Orleans bowled her over. It's not something you can capture correctly if you haven't been there.


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