Tuesday, 27 March 2012

On Location




At the heart of the YA novel I’m currently working on lies a crumbly old stately home that has been left unloved for many years. I had already written some of the scenes from imagination but I felt something was missing . As I was nearing the end the of the first draft, I had a strong urge to go and walk around a real property like the one in the story. I wanted to soak up the atmosphere and find out the little details you only pick up from first hand experience.

I asked all over the place for suggestions and was given a fair number that sounded good on paper. But from checking them out online, nothing felt quite right. The houses were either too far away or too manicured, too big or not big enough. Sometimes they were just wrong even though I couldn’t describe why.

I spent a lot of time looking through Google images and then one day I came across a picture of a house that immediately felt like ‘the one’. There was no name. The website it appeared on turned out to belong to a location company. So I got in touch and explained that no, I wasn’t a television company and no, I couldn’t afford to pay, but was there any chance they could let me know where the house was located? Better still, was there any chance I could pitch up and have a wander round?




They told me that if I put my request in writing, they would pass it on to the owners, who, they said, were lovely people. I sent off my email and crossed my fingers. Very quicky I was told that I could come and visit the house.

Last Friday I set off for the Southeast and was greeted by one of the owners. She was indeed a lovely person who, along with her husband, has raised a family in this amazing house. Over thirty years the couple - along with their sons - have been gradually restoring the property to its former glory.  It's a full time job. When they moved in, some rooms were literally only held up by their plumbing. Pot shots with air rifles had been taken at windows and one whole room, once grand, was filled with rotting mattresses.

Built in the late 1700s the house was originally a hunting lodge; a party house for a rich man and his friends. Over the years it has been through many different owners, including the Army, who requisitioned it for use by soldiers in WW11 ( just like in Downton Abbey).  The current owners have done an amazing job. Most rooms have been restored but more than anything else, it now feels loved.

They like to keep a low profile so I hope you’ll forgive me for not giving the name of the property here. But my day there really was the best and most enjoyable kind of book research.

So if there’s a location you’re writing about but don’t feel you can justify a trip to check it out in person, do think again.  It's really a worthwhile exercise. (And it makes you feel like A Proper Writer too...)




12 comments:

Deb said...

Sounds wonderful, Caroline. I agree the best way to research is to get out there, talk to people, visit places, so that when you write the scenes become real to the reader.

Helen Black said...

Completely agree that visiting locations is often well worth the time and effort.

You get that smell and sense of place that feeds into writing.
HB x

Gillian McDade said...

I absolutely agree that visiting locations are key to the novel's success. It makes the book real to you and the author.

For my next one, I have to go deep-sea diving to resurrect what's left of the Titanic (only joking!)

Caroline Green said...

Go for it Gillian, LOL!

I'm so grateful to the owners for letting me go. Shows that it really is worth asking sometimes...

Sandra Davies said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sandra Davies said...

Apols - tried to add a link but failed. But what I wanted to say was that I had a truly wonderful location moment last Wednesday, which I wrote about on my blog at http://sandra-linesofcommunication.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/triple-serendipity-coincidence.html

Caroline Green said...

What an amazing coincidence Sandra!

Sandra Davies said...

Caroline, I should add that the house itself was demolished in the early 1960s so there's no way I could ever visit, but thanks to the photo I saw that it was a far more astonishing place than ever I could have imagined just from seeing its turreted roof above the trees. As a result it's playing a much bigger part in the story.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Well done you, Caroline, for waiting for The Right One. What a fabulous experience.
Susiex

Debs Riccio said...

What a great idea, and, as Deb says, it can only make the connections feel more real. Next stop California? :)

EmmaH said...

Ooo errr, you're brave, Caroline. Good on you. Not sure I'd have the balls, but then I wouldn't feel very legitimate about being a proper enough writer to ask.

Caroline Green said...

California...I think I definitely need a trip there. I'm sure I could squeeze it into a book somehow ;)

Emma, hoenstly, it's so worthwhile in all kinds of ways. Even before I was published I found people reacted very favourably to any kind of book research.