25 July, 2006

Deja vu - locations and place names

Sometimes location and landscape can be a vital part of a story, almost as if the setting temporarily becomes a character in its own right. Would Jamaica Inn have its atmosphere of brooding evil without the bleak and barren landscape of Bodmin Moor looming on every page? Wouldn’t Wuthering Heights lose some of its primeval passion if Heathcliff lived in a neat manor house with roses round the door?

I like to use real places for the locations in my fiction. Even in the invented world of Ingeld’s Daughter, all the places are based on real locations (yes, even the underground sequence; I don’t go caving but I know people who do). In historical fiction, I try to use real places wherever possible, though quite often they are now buried under housing estates or later medieval buildings and a lot of artistic license is needed to imagine what they might have been like 1400 years ago. Quite often I find the location first and then set a scene there to make use of it - how could anyone resist the dramatic cliffs between Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay, or the strange rock formations on Derbyshire's Derwent Edge (see photo)? And just occasionally, there’s a remarkable coincidence that sends shivers down my spine.

I once wrote a scene involving a moorland fire at an army camp beside a Roman road. I picked the location from the topography, the known route of the road, the distance the marching army could have travelled before dark and a logical place to camp. I wrote the scene. Then I bought a larger-scale map - and found the exact spot is called Cinder Hill.

Even more creepily, I wrote a scene where a royal fugitive has to follow a stream through a snowstorm to find shelter. Again, I picked the location by walking his route and finding a beck that he would have had time to reach and that was big enough to be followed in bad weather conditions. Back at home, having written the scene, I traced the route of the stream on the map and found it had a name. What do you know? It’s called King’s Beck.

Creepy, or what?

Does this sort of thing happen to anyone else?


Gabriele Campbell said...

I have visited almost all locations in Kings and Rebels but it's more difficult with the Roman books - I have never been to southern France (though I'd like to) or Italy/Rome (where I don't feel like going).

I had some fun when I invented a place where in southern Britannia a circus could have been. In the end, I settled for Camulodunum because of the surrounding villas where you could breed horses, and the city and garrison that would provide the spectators. (Bath was another candidate but I sorta liked Camulodunom better.) Only to find out a few weeks thereafter that they're busy digging out a circus exactly where I put it. :)

Bernita said...

Gives one that shivery feeling up the spine, does it not?
Yes, though I can't recall a topographical instance right off, I know there have been a couple.
Wanted to have a broken sword that still could function as a weapon. Arbitrarily broke it 2/3rds down the blade. Later my weapon's master son-in-law told me that the the usual point for breakage.

Carla said...

Gabriele - that's one classy example! Almost enough to make one believe in time travel and past lives :-) Logic and geography don't change.

Bernita - indeed it does, and that's another good example. Did your weapons-master son-in-law say why swords commonly break there?

Bernita said...

I believe he said it's the point of most stress.

I love to read of these moments. Thank you both.

Carla said...

Um, but why is it the point of most stress? Is it something to do with the internal structure of the sword, or its shape, or is it because the way a sword is used concentrates the stress there (leverage?), or what?

Bernita said...

Use. As in against another sword.

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

I think that the past is there to be accessed like a...well like a website if you have the right software and trigger details - rather like using Google. I also think that sometimes what comes through as 'co-incidence' is the writer somehow tapping into this resource.
In the long distant past I've had names crop up in my fictional stories and then discovered the people really existed and had the same occupation - although not always in the same timeframe. I had a chap who was a bodyguard in 12thC Jerusalem. I was 15 at the time and my research was pretty duff. I just made up a name I fancied - Paul Jermain. Idly looking stuff up in the library a while later, I come across a guy of this name, doing that job in the Middle East in the 16thC. I think I tapped into something, but it went skewed at the last moment.
The remote viewing material I've been doing over the last two years has convinced me now, 100% that the past is indeed like a series of archived websites and that some people have the 'software' to unlock them. Everyone else just gets a gleam now and then.

Carla said...

Bernita - many thaks.

Elizabeth - interesting analogy. I'd have attributed it to knowing the period well, so that the writer's logical conjectures are indeed logical and therefore are right some of the time. But who's to say? Maybe the 'coincidences' are indeed little glimpses back into the past. Certainly stories sometimes seem to take on a life of their own.

Bernita said...

I tend to assume logic - plus some sort of sub-conscious tribal/cultural memory.
In any event, instances result in what I once saw described as a "cold intellectual ecstasy."

Carla said...

I guess a subconscious tribal memory might be another way of describing Elizabeth's concept of a series of 'websites'?