Someone Else’s Life by Katie Dale is a young adult contemporary novel that that follows the aftermath of a teenager’s shocking discovery. Rosie’s mother died from Huntington’s disease. She discovers that she was switched at birth and attempts to track down her biological mother. Pretty Books is participating in the Someone Else’s Life Blog Tour Part 2. Today, Katie Dale talks a bit about the importance of vivid locations in literature and the reasons for the choice of locations the characters travel to in her novel.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Is it important where a story is set? At first consideration it might not seem to matter too much, and in some cases the location is pretty interchangeable. For example, Sam in Before I Fall could pretty much attend any US high school – or even be relocated to the UK, as the teen social scene is fairly similar (which is one of the reasons the book is so thought-provoking – this could happen to anyone.) But imagine Wuthering Heights set anywhere but the Yorkshire moors, or The Beach anywhere but Thailand. Indeed, sometimes location even almost becomes a character in its own right, such is its impact on the characters and plot.
Location affects among many other things the climate of the story, the culture, the laws the characters should live by, what they wear, how they speak – the list is endless. Consequently, choice of location must be considered carefully. Some authors choose real-life locations – Forks in the Twilight saga for example (whose largely overcast and inclement weather proves beneficial to its resident vampires); Hayling Island in Miriam Halahmy’s Hidden (vital as the location Alix encounters an illegal immigrant); others use real locations under a fictional name (e.g. Sarah Dessen’s Lakeview is based on Chapel Hill, North Carolina); whilst yet others create worlds all of their own – Middle-earth, Hogwarts, Oz, Neverland, Wonderland, Narnia – where the reader is reliant on the author to paint absolutely every detail for them in their imagination. What a responsibility – and what an opportunity!
In Someone Else’s Life Rosie’s home town of Bramberley is based on two villages I used to live in at the foot of the South Downs in West Sussex – West Chiltington and Storrington, and named after two other nearby villages, Bramber and Amberley. I chose to fictionalize these locations because of the life-changing events that unfold at the local hospital (which doesn’t exist) – I didn’t want to use a real hospital or location and get anyone into trouble! Detail is equally important when using a real place – it must be accurate enough that if a reader visits (or lives there) they will find it as described in the novel.
Rosie in Someone Else’s Life discovers she was swapped at birth and tries to trace her real family to the United States, so I decided to use real locations for her trip – places I’d always aspired to visit when I was a teenager, like New York and New England. No fictional city could conjure up the immediate impact and atmosphere of New York City – the hustle and bustle of a place that is the complete antithesis of a quaint rural English village – so it was useful to use a location that readers would already be familiar with.
Luckily, I had visited all the US locations featured (no budget for research travel!) but I did additional research to flesh out the details, and the internet became an invaluable resource. For example, although I have visited New York, I’ve never been there on New Year’s Eve, so I looked it up on YouTube. The footage I found was incredible – I really felt as if I was there, living it – and consequently that scene in the book became much more important and vibrant.
Likewise, Google Images and Google StreetMap were incredible devices – I found I could virtually walk around the towns I was describing and felt as if I was actually there! I also discovered that sometimes fact is even more incredible than fiction! – I could never have invented a giant Christmas tree made of lobster pots in Provincetown, or the giant black and white photos covering the pier! Whether real or imaginary, as well as affecting and enhancing the plot, a well-created sense of place enriches the reading experience no end. To feed the reader’s imagination in such a way that they actually feel like they’re physically transported to that setting – seeing, touching, tasting and smelling everything around them – is one of the most powerful things about fiction, truly bringing a story to life.
Wherever a book’s location may be – real, imaginary, or somewhere in-between – perhaps the most important thing is that it must feel real for the reader. I’ll always remember feeling Lyra’s cold in Northern Lights, the stickily warm exotic night air in Sarah Singleton’s The Island, and Lucy’s delighted amazement as she steps through the wardrobe into a snow-covered Narnia, and I thrill at the knowledge that at any time I can revisit any one of these places and many, many more besides, simply by opening a book.
Other stops on the Someone Else’s Life Blog Tour:
20th – Reading Between the Lines
21st – Mind Reader
23rd – Books for Company
24th – The Book Mogul
27th – Books 4 Teens
28th – The Book Addicted Girl
29th – Life Between Pages
Follow Katie – katiedaleuk.blogspot.com / @katiedaleuk