[As I shall be away in Worcester this Sunday, with other ACE writers at the Worcester Literary Festival, and Sunday is the day I try to post a blog (at least once a month), what better time to introduce my very first Guest Blogger, author Marissa de Luna? I have already told loyal readers about her delicious new series, The Chupplejeep Mysteries as I thoroughly enjoyed the first, Under the Coconut Tree (see Books to Escape With). But at least part of its charm is the unusual background, so I have invited Marissa to tell us more about why she chose her unexpected setting.]
As a writer I read extensively. I love escaping with a good book and, for me, the hook is often the location, travelling to exotic locations through the power of words. I often find myself perusing the on-line book shelves at Trip Fiction – a site which matches books to locations – just to find a book set in the country I want to escape to.
Location and a sense of place is a great tool to give your book that unusual edge or to provide a cultural reasoning as to why characters behave the way they do. In cosy crime novels where psychological twists are not the USP, it is often the location that draws the reader (or viewer) in.
Inspector Morse and Lewis set amidst Oxford’s spires ensures that, more often than not, crimes are committed in and around the colleges providing the viewer/reader with a glimpse of what happens behind those stone walls. Alexander McCall Smith’s The Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency, set in Botswana, immediately conjures up images of Africa, wildlife interfering with crime scenes and the laidback lifestyle. The Inspector Montalbano series, set in Italy, gives a light-hearted approach to the occasional bribe and corrupt police officer and in my Chupplejeep Mystery series set in rural Goa the cultural nuances and the importance of food are almost as vital as the plot line.
For me a sense of place anchors you.
Setting your novel in a specific geographic location allows you to explore (…exploit!) a whole host of new symbols, weather, and cultural differences. National flowers and birds and their specific meanings, persistent rain and superstitions can all play a big part and reflect certain themes within your book. The bleak weather of the Scandinavian countries provide the perfect atmosphere for thrillers and serious crime. Whereas a sunny backdrop gives the perfect setting for more frivolous crimes. Plus, in an exotic location you have the added danger of venomous reptiles and cultural differences to add to your story. Bribery may be a taboo in England, but it’s fair play in many countries – an accepted part and parcel of life.
Most readers want to learn something new, even if it is on a subconscious level and as a reader I love learning about different locations, the way people in another country behave and react in certain situations. Using this in your novel makes the reader really question whether they would behave in the same manner when presented with those circumstances. And once your reader does this, they are hooked into that world you have painstaking created for them.
So how do you go about weaving a sense of place into your manuscript?
Here are a couple of pointers to get you on your way:
The senses. It’s not just about what your characters can see. They feel the heat on their back, the sweat on their brow. They can smell the simmering spices in a food bazaar and they can taste the sourness of the green mango. Use all the senses to build a picture of what it is like to be in that particular place.
Cultural references – Make sure you reader knows what is or isn’t a taboo. Are certain animals sacred? Is gossiping the norm? Do police rely on it? Is bribery okay?
Food – I love food and so food (especially foods that are unique to a certain location) always plays a part in my novels.
Weather – I am a strong believer that weather always reflects atmosphere! Add a note about weather to the scene to reflect what your characters are dealing with.
Language – is your book set in a country where another language is spoken? Drop in a few words here and there. It adds flavour to the book reminding the reader of the location.
Marissa de Luna is an up and coming young author with a passion for travel. Her latest book Poison in the Water (So Vain Books) is out now. Under the Coconut Tree is the first in the Chupplejeep Mystery Series set in rural Goa and is available as an e-book and paperback. Both books are available to order through Amazon or your local bookseller. For more information on Marissa, please visit: www.marissadeluna.com