I'm delighted to welcome author Fanny Blake onto my blog today. Fanny's new book, House of Dreams is set in southern Spain and she tells us here How she chooses her settings for her book.
My review will be online in the next few days.
How I Choose My Settings
One of the many pleasures of writing a novel is choosing the various settings, whether it’s a setting in the UK or abroad or, on a micro level, the buildings, the rooms or specific locations where the action of the novel happens.
The settings aren’t the first thing I think of when I’m writing a novel. My initial thoughts are with the characters, the tensions and conflicts between them and the journeys they’re going to take. Once I’ve settled on those, I start to think where they might live and which locations will add to the impact and point up what’s going on between them.
When planning House of Dreams, I remembered a walking holiday I’d been on in southern Spain and realised I wanted to set it there. I wanted to remove a family from their everyday lives and put them in a beautiful location to contrast with the darker issues and tensions running between them.
Two sisters and a brother make an emotionally charged return to Casa de Sueños, the house where they grew up. It’s a slightly rundown farmhouse on the mountainside below the white village of Gaucín with views that stretch south to the straits of Gibraltar. On a clear day you can see all the way to Africa.
The siblings have come to celebrate their late mother Hope’s life with her traditional birthday party, planned by her before she died, and to scatter her ashes. Hope found the house when she was a young woman with two children, just married to Walter, the father of her third. To her, Case de Sueños represented a place of new beginnings in which she could invest all her hopes and dreams.
However, seeing the house through the eyes of her children, it becomes a very different place. They have been shaped and influenced by growing up there so their memories give the place another character altogether. The house is full of things that illustrate the person Hope was: a sewing box; a wardrobe full of her old clothes; the piano and so on.
Houses and their contents say so much about the people living in them. For instance, in my novel With a Friend Like You, Beth lives in an oasis of calm, all white walls and minimal possessions, while her friend Megan’s house is messy, filled with stuff accumulated over the years. Those two houses say everything about those women’s characters to me. If I’m writing using a setting abroad then so far, I’ve chosen places I’ve visited, dipping into my diaries for colour and detail, revisiting if I can. I may use real streets or locations but I rarely use specific buildings. Instead I build my own to give me the particular interior space I want.
Setting conveys mood, is an indicator or shaper of character, and underscores the story, and is inextricably linked with all three. Getting it right makes all the difference.
Fanny Blake’s House of Dreams is published by Orion in paperback, £7.99 and is out now.