In anticipation for the release of our second issue in December, for this month’s Penned, I interviewed a handful of well-known, established authors. Each of these authors have sold and written numerous novels, each of them using their talent to create an unforgettable and awe-filled atmosphere.
The question this month corroborates with the second issue’s theme, Encounters with Nature. This is what I asked these talented writers: “The Drowning Gull’s forthcoming issue strongly correlates with a writer’s or artist’s sense of place. How important is this sense of place to you in your own writing?”
Allan Frewin Jones:
On the page, I endlessly return to places I know – midsummer beaches – streets of childhood games – mountains seen on holiday – a park where the dog ran unleashed – a stone knife in a museum – an old house on a hill – a leaf-heavy Autumn tree – a window overlooking a garden – textures – smells – curves and lines and colours – these keep drawing me back and infiltrating my writing. Sometimes I am asked or inspired to create other worlds – but those beaches, those mountains, those windows, those gardens always come creeping in.
Sense of place is enormously important to me in writing, and the initial seed of a book often comes from a place I’ve visited, or a sense of atmosphere stored away from long ago. People often talk about books being character led, but setting is to me almost as important – characters react very differently to the same events taking place in a sunny meadow or snowy midnight woods, and a book without a vivid setting is for me like a play taking place on an empty stage – it can still be wonderful, but we’re left wondering how much more wonderful might it have been with a memorable backdrop?
When I wrote my first novel, A Dog Called Flow, over twenty years ago I knew the house and valley that the story was set in very well. They are real. That particular landscape plays its part in the story. But so, even more so, does the almost Arctic mountain and river landscape in Finding Fortune. In that story, Ida travels from Britain to Canada, across Canada, and then the perilous and dramatic journey into inhospitable wilderness of the Klondike as they search for gold. And yet I’ve never done a step of that journey in real life; only in my imagination. Different again are picture books such as forthcoming My Very Own Space where the story happens on a blank canvas, so with no landscape at all. Every story has its own needs.
When I was fourteen, our family was forced to leave our home my father had built, along with 365 acres, and I mourned that land more than the dwelling. This predilection permeates every aspect of my writing, and I believe a sense of place is a character, which sets the tone for the story and scenes. Every one of my novels has a rural setting, and I cannot imagine ever setting a story in a city, for it is the land that speaks to me: hardwood trees, freshwater springs, and rolling hills. Such beauty–and peace–is found here.
A sense of place is one of the most important elements of a story, especially in regard to how characters relates to their surroundings. I see setting as the focusing lens of the story. Setting should impact a scene in a 360 degree sense. Example: if a character is sharing or receiving personal news in a crowded, noisy bar, how would he/she speak? What would make him/her hesitate or break up the conversation? If they were to receive/give the same news in a quiet, private setting, how would the feel of it change? The setting acts as a “silent” character.
I live in two places, the material world and a spirit realm in my head and heart. When they are in sync my life feels complete, and I am happy, which is why I choose to reside in the Monadnock Region of New Hampshire. I’ve collected images and stories of my region and its people in my mind and created the fictional town of Darby. Maybe its divine inspiration, or maybe only shit luck, but somehow Darby images transubstantiated into seven novels. I am grateful.
George Ella Lyon:
I been placed
I been displaced
I been overplaced
I been otherplaced
from depraved place
to you’ve-got-it-made place
laced & maced
graced & disgraced
I been mapped
I been first-placed
How come I’m still missing?
Thank you for reading this month’s Penned. Be sure to check out some of the great novels written by the interviewees. The deadline for this themed issue is the end of this month, I hope to see your work! Happy writing!
Allan Frewin Jones was born in London on the 30th April 1954 : Walpurgisnacht – “the most evil night of the year!!” When a teacher read Alan Garner’s THE WIERDSTONE OF BRISINGAMEN to his primary school class, he was inspired to write – and hasn’t stopped since. Considered to be “good” at art. Also enjoys listening to and making music. Various clerical jobs followed school, to support writing, amateur music-making and other artistic habits. Wrote several fantasy books when they weren’t in favour with publishers. Went to Middlesex Poly for a Diploma of Higher Education, majoring in Fine Art. Started sending books off to publishers/literary agents. Was taken up by an Agent. Listened to advice and criticism. Re-wrote books. Re-presented books. Got his first book published in 1987. Went freelance as a writer November 1992. About 100 books published to date under several different names. Lives in Bexleyheath, KENT, England, with his wife, Claudia (German) and a cat called Lulu (English).
Ruth Ware grew up in Lewes, in Sussex and studied at Manchester University, before settling in North London. She has worked as a waitress, a bookseller, a teacher of English as a foreign language and a press officer. Her début thriller In a Dark, Dark Wood and the follow-up The Woman in Cabin 10 were both Sunday Times top ten bestsellers in the UK, and New York Times top ten bestsellers in the US. She is currently working hard on book three. Follow her on twitter at @ruthwarewriter. Find her on facebook as Ruth Ware Writer.
Pippa Goodhart has been writing children’s books for twenty-five years, with over a hundred books published. Those books include prize-winning picture book You Choose, and the Winnie the Witch story books which she writes under the name of Laura Owen. She lives near Cambridge, and divides work time between writing, working with children in schools, and teaching and critiquing those wanting to write for children.
Jolina Petersheim is the bestselling author of The Alliance, The Midwife and The Outcast, which Library Journal called “outstanding . . . fresh and inspirational” in a starred review and named one of the best books of 2013. Her writing has been featured in venues as varied as radio programs, nonfiction books, and numerous online and print publications such as Reader’s Digest, Writer’s Digest, and Today’s Christian Woman. Jolina and her husband share the same unique Amish and Mennonite heritage that originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but now live in the mountains of Tennessee with their young daughters.
Georgia native Jadie Jones first began working for a horse farm at twelve years old, her love of horses matched only by her love of books. She went on to acquire a B.A. in equine business management, and worked for competitive horse farms along the east coast. The need to write followed wherever she went. She now lives with her family in Oregon’s Rogue River Valley. When she’s not working on a new project, she is either in the saddle or exploring the great outdoors with her children.
Ernest Hebert is the author of eleven novels, and is best known for the Darby series, seven novels written between 1979 and 2014, about modern life in a fictional New Hampshire town as it transitions from relative rural poverty to being more upscale. Hebert attended Keene State College and is now a Professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College. He is the recipient of three journalism awards from United Press International, the Hemingway Foundation cited his novel Dogs of March for excellence, and he has received the Sarah Josepha Hale Award for lifetime achievement by a New England author. “I have two identities as a writer. Part of me is a realist. I want my novels to be truthful to the real world as I have experienced it. But I’m also a dreamer. I believe in the life of the imagination.”
George Ella Lyon’s most recent books include Many-Storied House: Poems and Voices from the March on Washington, a collection of poetry for young adults, co-written with J. Patrick Lewis. A native of Harlan County, Kentucky, Lyon makes her living as a freelance writer and teacher based in Lexington. She currently serves as the state’s Poet Laureate (2015-2016).