Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Location, Location, Location

Just now, on Twitter, I came across a sketch by an artist of two imaginary children on a bike in a London street. Marshalsea Rd.  It was very specific. Exact.
Minutes earlier I’d answered a question from a publicist about my settings – were they real – had I imagined them?

I had to admit that I’d amalgamated several different places. Yes, there was a spot in my head, but it wasn’t perfect.  Generally, I like to take a place and make it fit.  Bring the quarry a little closer to the farm, lug the river up the hill a bit, add an extra storey to the house. That kind of thing.
And it made me wonder – does it matter to the reader if the location is real or imagined?
Obviously, a fantasy adventure set in space is an imagined location – but for all the terrestrial stories do we unconsciously or even consciously try to work out where they are? And does it matter if the story changes those places a little, or a lot?

When Phillip Reeve wrote his Mortal Engine books, he messed about with London, which was fine, because it’s fantasy – but would we have stood for Anthony Horowitz doing the same in his Alex Rider series?

Which got me thinking about using real people -  was I the only person who felt a delicious sense of something naughty when James Bond trotted through Buck palace with the Queen at the Olympics? or even when David Walliams cast the Queen in his Gangsta Granny book?
Historical fiction is full of real figures, it’s totally fine to use them – but apart from the Queen – or “the Prime Minister” I don’t know of any other examples of real people being stolen by contemporary children's writers. 
Do you? 

And, what do you think about locations?  Is using a real place a little bit naughty? A little bit exciting? Or – as it’s a work of fiction – would you rather have fiction all the way?
I’m interested.  

Latest book from Fleur Hitchcock, MURDER IN MIDWINTER out October 6th from Nosy Crow. 


  1. As a reader, I like reading about real places, especially when I've been there. I don't mind the author fiddling with them a bit, as long as they say they have done so. Real people - as long as they don't play a real role in the story. I suspect Queen Elizabeth is used to being a part of fiction by now, from Matilda to Dr Who. It might be another matter if she had been shown having an affair or there was a story in which she was murdered. You should ask permission- and remind yourself that you'd appreciate that if someone wrote YOU into a story!

    1. Good thoughts! But do you get a weird fiction meeting reality feeling when real people pop up?

  2. I usually have a vision of a real place in my head, but I like to make it new. That said, I have no issue with real places showing up in novels, as long as they fit.

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