Francesca embarks on a little seaside research on her way to Fishguard Writers’ Holiday.
[First posted in August 2015]
Last week I had a wonderful time at the Writers’ Holiday in Fishguard, my second time at that location but my eighth Writers’ Holiday in all. Coincidentally, it was only a few miles from the village I’m using as a basis for the setting of my latest ‘Work in Progress’. Having only looked at it on Google Maps before, it was the ideal opportunity to investigate the real thing. Armed with my camera and my Welsh language/West Wales consultant (otherwise knows as my friend Angela Johnson!), I had a good walk around the place, snapping numerous photographs.
It was very strange being in a place I’d ‘walked’ around many times on a satellite map, as it really felt like I’d been there before. My ‘WIP’ is about a young woman called Tori, who decides to leave the high life of London and settle down in the sleepy village of Môrglas, a name I made up and which means ‘green sea’ in Welsh. When I was looking for a place on the West Wales coast in which to set my novel, Angela wrote a few ideas down for me. Although I didn’t pick one of them ultimately, they led me to Llangrannog, which is what I based Môrglas on.
I’ve made a few changes to the area – put a hotel where there’s a café, made another café into an Italian restaurant, put a village hall where there are some houses, moved the church from one side of the village to the other and removed a road, for example. I find that picking a place that already exists and changing a few details for the convenience of my story is so much quicker than inventing something from scratch. In a couple of novels I’ve written, I’ve used places I know very well – Worthing and Littlehampton, where I was born and then brought up – but again have rearranged them and renamed them.
You might have realised by now that these locations have something in common: they’re all by the sea. As I’ve said before on this blog, I no longer live by the coast and do miss it, so I guess setting stories there makes up for it a little. Out of the four novels and two novellas I’ve completed, along with the ‘WIP’, all but one is set by the sea, and the exception is set near a river (which Littlehampton also possesses).
I have writer friends who use real settings with their proper names, either in the present or in the past (which presents its own problems). Other writers I know make up completely new settings or, in the case of sci-fi, new worlds. If you’re a writer reading this, I’d love to hear how you deal with settings, so feel free to comment below.
12 thoughts on “A Little First Hand Research”
Google Maps are an amazing resource but how wonderful it must have been for you to walk the streets, literally, of your chosen setting. There is also something very special about waterside locations, be they coastal or inland. I’m sure your WIP will have an added dimension after your visit. I wish you luck with it
Thank you, Natalie. I guess if you love a location it is easier to bring it to life, like you with the Cotswolds – also a wonderful setting.
I obviously enjoyed this blog as it is based on somewhere where I used to spend Sunday afternoons in childhood: instant memories of unique seaside sounds, the gulls and the breaking waves, and the little stream which bisects the beach, the taste of banana sandwiches, and the gritty crunch of sand. My mother swam here as a child and my brother was married in the grey little chapel on the hill.
A sense of place and the ability to make that place live on the page is an important part of a writer’s tools.Thanks, Francesca, for taking me there, in imagination and memory, and in reality on a Sunday morning a couple of weeks ago, and, bravely, driving through narrow lanes and roads which abruptly stopped without warning. We climbed steep hills and acquainted ourselves with the local saint, Caranog, as he stared over the bay towards Snowdonia. A very good morning for writers.
I love your wonderful description of the beach, Angela. It was good to be able to visity Llangrannog with somebody who knows it well. I must admit I have replaced Caranog, who is linked with that particular location, with St Tysilio whose influence and name is a bit more country wide.
It does sound lovely. I’m one of them that make up new worlds and I find photographic books help. This world is full of amazing sights that you wouldn’t believe existed if somebody else hadn’t seen it with their own eyes and taken a professional photograph to prove it. I’ve also got books with people photos for the faces and the clothes. But I do think that in the end those details that you and Angela picked up can’t be easily faked if you’re writing about an area that people know well.
I was thinking of you (and Giovanna) when I mentioned new worlds, Linda. I know Giovanna used the photos from the Mars landings for one of her novels, but you don’t have to look off-planet for incredible sights. I never cease to be amazed when I see some of the photographs people post on places like Twitter. Truly breathtaking.
Loved this piece – thank you so much for bringing back many happy memories. I have a photo on my desk of my Dad and I stitting on a rock on Llangrannog beach. Hoping to do a Fishguard course in February 🙂 Loving a place is great inspiration for writing and I’ve always used locations I am very fond of in my writing, it helps it come alive if you are passionate about the place.
It’s interesting to find that people have good memories of this place that seemed so far off the beaten track, Caroline. Although Angela pointed me in that direction, I had no idea Llangrannog was a childhood haunt of hers when I picked it. I agree that having a great fondness for a setting does help when you’re writing about it.
I really enjoyed this blog piece and have added Llangannog it to my list of ‘places to visit.’ You always have a sense of place in your writing and I applaud you for inventing new towns and villages around existing settings. However, my personal opinion is that readers and publishers would be even more eager to read your books if they were set in ‘real time’. It’s not only a good maketing ploy but brings back memories for those who love an area. x
I understand what you mean, about setting novels in ‘real time’, Elaine, and I have thought about it several times. I know it’s what you do in your sagas. It’s a brave – and scary – thing to do as there’s always a chance of somebody pulling you up on something, especially when it’s somewhere new to you, as Llangrannog is to me. As for the places I’ve lived, I guess there’s a chance of people I’ve known thinking they’re one of the characters!
Like everyone else here I loved this piece, it was so personal and therefore an enchanting read. It must have been wonderful to visit one of your settings. I would imagine it will add another dimension to your novel. I look forward to hearing and reading it. Elaine R
Thank you, Elaine R. Now I just have to get on with the novel!