Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Saturday, 21 November 2015

Location, location, location - by Jenny Harper

I've been thinking a lot about location in the past week or two.

Of course, we all know that a novel's setting can contribute to the overall 'feeling' of the book, and of course a book's success will depend on dozens of key factors: story, characters, pace and the general skill of the author, to name but a few.

However, I've been wondering – is the setting in itself a key factor in sales?

St Ann's Place, Haddington (the basis for Hailesbank).
Photo MJ Richardson, Wikimedia Commons
By placing my Heartlands series in a little-known corner of Scotland, for example, is it less attractive to readers than, say, a remote Highland glen ... London ... Cornwall ... New York ... the Riviera etc etc?

Further to that, does the fact that my East Lothian town is imaginary attract readers or discourage them?

Cornwall seems to have been – and remains – hugely popular. Is this because of writers such as Daphne du Maurier, Winston Graham and Rosamund Pilcher, or because the area has great beauty and a shadowy and romantic history?
Mousehole, Cornwall
Photo Waterborough, Wikimedia Commons

Is New York popular with British readers because we think it's 'cool'? Do American readers love the Highlands of Scotland because they see our misty glens as deeply romantic (and populated by 'men in kilts')?

Many of my readers tell me they love being able to visualise my locations (even though Hailesbank and Forgie are made up places, they sit in a recognisable context). My forthcoming book, Between Friends, is set in Edinburgh. Will this make it more successful than my Heartlands series, or less? If it's more successful, will it be because of the location, or because it's a better book? Or simply that my time has come? (I don't even want to think about the possibility of it being less successful...).

Edinburgh on a cold winter's evening
Photo Stablenode, Wikimedia Commons

Naturally, a great storyteller will spin a yarn set in a graveyard, or a cottage or a castle. But do some places have more appeal than others?

What do you think?

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18 comments:

  1. That's a very interesting question. I've never thought of a location boosting sales, other than that people tend to prefer to read about 'nice' locations. But what I dod think is that creating a realistic sense of place is bound to improve the quality of the reader's experience and, therefore, the quality of your book. That's regardless of whether the place is real or imaginary.

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    1. My editor once commented, in passing, that setting at least some of the novel outside Scotland would give her another handle for sales. That's what set me thinking. But I'm sure you're right. :-)

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  3. Well, that's given us something to think about, Jenny. In my case, I couldn't set No More Mulberries anywhere other than Afghanistan, though the specific village locations are made up, which very few western readers would realise.
    As a reader, I don't think I've ever decided against a book because of its location but I really couldn't say that I'd choose a book because of where it is set. Thinking about it, I'd probably prefer a made-up place because then as a reader I'm not distracted by trying to work out where events are actually happening in a real location.

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    1. And clearly, the Afghanistan setting is a huge draw for No More Mulberries!
      It's interesting about the real vs imaginary debate. John Grisham (or was it Lee Child???) once said he does take liberties with location and didn't want readers writing in to tell him such and such a cafe was twenty yards further down the street than he'd set it.
      I do like the freedom that a made-up place gives you - but there are challenges too. You have to remember what you put where, or keep extensive notes!

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  4. I thought this was a really interesting post, too. I would definitely be drawn to a book for its location, either because I was interested in it or I wanted to recapture something of a place I'd been. I like to read about India because I grew up there. It doesn't have to be a part I am familiar with. I love to read about the Scottish Islands because they intrigue me, because they are so close and yet so unfamiliar. I don't think it matters if the places are made up as long as it feels real and the people are credible inhabitants of that place.

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  5. Lesley, I grew up in India too! I haven't set a book there yet, although my first effort was set there, in 1944. It has never seen the light of day (it wasn't nearly good enough) but I might go back to it one day.
    I do know the Scottish islands very well. My novel, Loving Susie has a section set on Mull (where I once worked, as a student). You should go - they are stunningly beautiful and very, very different!
    Thanks for your contribution.

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  6. It seems as though it is all tied up with marketing, especially in this day and age. A novelist rellie of mine who had three Gloucestershire-based novels published was told by her agent to set her next book somewhere more exotic - Italy would be good, because everyone loves to read about Italy. So, why are mine all set in Devon then??? :)

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    1. Because we write about places we know?
      Anyway, yours have loads of atmosphere, Linda...

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    2. Linda, I love the Devon settings for your books. And it's interesting what you say about setting books in Italy. Well, we'll see...!

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  7. I don't buy books because of location, however, it's a bonus if I know the location. I like to identify with where the story is happening.

    From the point of view of a writer, I suspect a bookshop would be more inclined to stock your book if it was set in their town.

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  8. Possibly true Maria. Of course, there are lots of really goof writers in Edinburgh, who write books set in Edinburgh. I'm never sure if it's an advantage!

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  9. I've had some good comments on FB when I shared this post there. Location very important to some writers it seems.

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  10. Some people are really rooted in their own environment - I guess I am, to a certain extent. I'd love to invent a Discworld or something though!

    Thanks Linda.

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  11. Very interesting post. As a writer, I choose exotic locations, but my early novels were set in my place of birth. Many locations I choose, I have never visited. So I read on the Internet about the notable places, restaurants, hotels etc, then I make up the rest. Forbidden Dance was partly set in Morocco. I have never visited there. Stolen Valentine Kiss is set in Jersey City, New Jersey, US. I have not been to the US. But that book has earned me hundreds of US fans and one reader told me she wanted the book because she lives in New Jersey.

    As a reader, I'm fairly drawn to nice locations but the blurb is the perfect draw. So, if a book I fancy the blurb is also set in a nice location, it is a winner.

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    1. That's very interesting, Stella, thank you. I think I'm with you - the theme, characters and plot, and the writing itself, are the main ingredients, but a great location can certainly add a lot!

      Thank you for contributing.

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  12. Gosh Jenny, that is just a difficult question. Location is very important to me and some of my favourite books have made me want to visit the locaiton they are set in. But I think first and foremost it is the quality of the book that is most important for me, and the setting secondary. Havin said that, setting can actually put me off a book! For years after I left southern Africa and it's political turmoil I refused to read any book set there. Too close to home, maybe?

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    1. Definitely! Interesting reaction though.

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