"I love to travel, and I have seen some wonderful sights. I was wondering if any of the Wenches has ever been so captivated by an historic or scenic site that she felt compelled to write a story with that setting. I know that many authors start with either characters or a plot as a story idea, but have any of you STARTED with a PLACE?"
Anne Gracie was inspired by the exotic: Cheryl, I, too am a keen traveller, and many of my books have been set partially in places other than England. Various editors, however, have gently encouraged me to rein in this desire, claiming most readers prefer familiar settings.
"You would have been diverted at seeing us cross the barrier into Piedmont called Mount Cenis. The day before yesterday we left Lansleburg tied on litters like cripples, muzzled and pack'd in straw, our chairs supported by wild Savoyards, and relays of them running by the side, who hopp'd nimbly with us rock to rock, singing and emulating each other in feats of activity…"
Cara Elliott loved the Irish mountains: I’ve not yet created an entire book based on a location, but I have been inspired to add certain scenes because of a specific place that I’ve visited. Two examples quickly come to mind . . .
When I was traveling along the Ring of Kerry in southwest Ireland, I drove through Killarney National Park, a hauntingly beautiful wilderness which features breathtaking vistas, scenic lakes and the rugged McGillycuddy’s Reeks, the highest mountains in Ireland. It was such a dramatic setting that I knew I wanted to use it in a story. So in SEDUCED BY A SPY, one of my Andrea Pickens books, I created a chase scene where my heroine and hero eluded their enemies among the rocky trails.
A second inspiration was Bovey Castle, a magnificent country estate hotel set in England’s Dartmoor National Park (the setting of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles.) With its rambling stone manor house, formal gardens, rolling lawns and mist-shrouded woodlands, the place had a wonderfully mysterious ambiance. Not long after my visit, I needed a remote ducal estate in which to stage a rare book auction and immediately thought of Bovey Castle as my “role model for Marquand Castle in THE SPY WORE SILK.
Jo Beverley featured dramatic coastal settings: This isn't exactly a matter of a place inspiring a story because I already had part of the story for THE DRAGON'S BRIDE. It was taking place on the coast, and I picked the Dorset/Devon border because the geography felt right and I knew it had smuggling history. As we were coming over for a holiday and research trip, we went to the area, in particular the small town of Bee, which might be a good setting.
It was perfect for my story, but I hadn't realized that a famous smuggler, Jack Ratterbury, was operating there exactly when my story was taking place! That wasn't going to work with my book, in which there already was a local smuggling master, "Captain Drake." Strangely enough, a previous Captain Drake, Melchisedeck Clyst, had semi-retired and run a pub there, as Rattenbury was in 1816 in Beer.
My solution was simple — I renamed the location, but Dragon's Cove is Beer, and when you look at this picture of the Beer headland, imagine Crag Wyvern up there, a bizarre house built to look like a medieval keep.
Mary Jo Putney journeyed through the Outer Hebrides : I've never had a story kicked off by a particular place, but setting is really important to me, and I've certainly had scenes and settings inspired by places I've been. Many years ago, before I started writing, I visited the Outer Hebrides island of Harris and Lewis, and we visited a crumbled, deserted village that was all blackhouses. This is a primitive form of building with dry stone construction and thatched roofs and absolutely no creature comforts. Smoke from a peat fire formed a layer in the air before making its way out of a hole in the middle of the roof. Often people lived at one end and animals at the other. You can see why people abandoned them when better became available!
All the blackhouses in the little village had fallen into ruin, with remnants of walls and tumbled rocks and long fallen beams. I thought at the time it would be a great setting for a romantic suspense chase scene, with lots of places for the hunted to hide. And sure enough, that's what happened to my poor hero and heroine in my historical, SHATTERED RAINBOWS. Bits and pieces of places like this are always showing up in my stories. Not only is this fun, it's why writers can take tax deductions on research trips.
Pat Rice was enchanted by France: This doesn't happen to me often. As you say, I usually start with character and maybe a situation. So I probably had a psychotic moment while traveling with a busload of hormonal teenagers through France…
But as we drove through the French countryside, passing magnificent palaces and fields and valleys, we also passed a beautiful forest on a distant hill. Not the chaotic confusion of our American forests but what was probably a planned planting since the trees were mostly the same height, although I didn't see an end to them. And for whatever reason, I saw a silent young woman among those trees, one with silver hair looking almost ethereal, carrying a basket of flowers. From that sighting emerged the book THE SILVER ENCHANTRESS, one of my real oldies.
Nicola Cornick dreamed of islands: When I first read the question I thought "that never happens to me; I start with character, or occasionally a plot idea." But actually when I started to think about it I realised that I am frequently inspired by location. One example is from one of my oldies, LADY ALLERTON'S WAGER. The wager in question is made between a lord and a lady over possession of an island called Fairhaven which had been in her family for centuries but had been lost in a game of chance. She plays the hero for the island and wins but then he reneges on the bet. Fairhaven was inspired by Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel, a place I have visited several times. It's remote, stunningly beautiful and packed with intriguing history. The medieval castle has been converted into three apartments and staying there is a fabulous treat!
More recently I was inspired by a trip to Spitsbergen in the Arctic. I was stunned by the beauty of the landscape and remember feeling that I absolutely had to set a book there. When I read about the history of the island and discovered what an important role it had in the voyages of exploration at the start of the nineteenth century I began to visualise my hero, a rugged Naval captain and explorer, a reluctant celebrity who was impatient with the ways of polite Regency society. I'm very excited about WHISPER OF SCANDAL, which comes out later this year and kicks off a new series of mine with unusual backgrounds or settings.
Thank you for giving us all the opportunity to dwell on some of our favorite settings, Cheryl. Now it's over to all of you. Is there a place you've visited and were struck by what a marvellous setting it would make for a story? Do you have any favorite books when it comes to unusual locations?