Thursday, 15 March 2012

Featured Author and Guest Post: Paula Martin

I am delighted to welcome wonderful writer and good blogging friend Paula Martin back to my reading and writing blog today. Paula’s new novel, Fragrance of Violets, is set in the beautiful Lake District and it’s obvious that this author knows her setting.

Paula has kindly written a very interesting post about the importance of knowing the background detail for any novel set in a real place, and she practises what she preaches! Thank you for this, Paula.


But first, an intriguing blurb and buy links:

Fragrance of Violets

The title comes from a quote by Mark Twain: 'Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it'.

The story, set mainly in England’s beautiful Lake District, is about two people who need to forgive each other and also deal with other issues in their lives.

Abbey Seton distrusts men, especially Jack Tremayne who destroyed their friendship when they were teenagers. Ten years later, they meet again. Can they put the past behind them?

Abbey has to forgive not only Jack, but also her father who deserted his family when she was young. Jack holds himself responsible for his fiancée’s death. He’s also hiding another secret which threatens the fragile resumption of his relationship with Abbey.

Will Abbey ever forgive him when she finds out the truth?

Find Paula’s books on the Whiskey Creek Press website; Amazon (UK) and Amazon (US)

Setting my Novels


Many years ago, some scenes for a major British film were shot in my home town. We watched some of the filming one evening. When the film was shown the following year, of course we went to see it. In one scene, a bus pulls up outside the Town Hall. You could sense the reaction all over the cinema, with people muttering ‘Buses don’t stop there.’ In that split second, the illusion was lost as people with a personal knowledge of the location were distracted by an inaccuracy.

A minor detail, I know, but it has stayed with me, over 40 years later. I’ve read similar inaccuracies in books about places I know. Someone drives along Quay Street in Galway – nope, it’s a traffic free zone. Someone looks out from the White House and sees Pennsylvania Avenue beyond the Washington Monument - wrong, the Monument is south of the White House, and PA Ave is north.

In my opinion, writers must always take into account of the fact that one or more of their readers will know the place(s) in their book(s) unless, of course, they are completely fictitious. All the research in the world will probably not give you the information to avoid making an error which causes the reader to say ‘Buses don’t stop there’ (or similar).

This is why, so far, I have set my novels in places with which I’m familiar. His Leading Lady was set mainly in London, which I know fairly well. Fragrance of Violets is set in the Lake District, an area I know intimately. The village in this story is based on a real village, but I’ve given it a different name and ‘moved’ a few buildings around! Similarly, in my June release, Changing the Future, I’ve used a real Lakeland village (a different one) but given it a new name.

Eighteen months ago, I wouldn’t have dreamt of setting a novel in Egypt, but having spent two weeks there, I think (hope!) I absorbed enough to write reasonably authentically about Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. I had to do more research than, for instance, a novel set in the Lake District, but at least I had a basic knowledge on which to build.

When I was writing a fan fiction story, I set part of it in Galway City in Ireland. I’d never been there and, to my knowledge, none of the people on the loop where I was going to post it had been there either. However, I still wanted to make sure my setting was accurate, so I went over to Galway for a few days. I walked from the Cathedral to Eyre Square, and then down Shop Street and Quay Street to the harbour at Claddagh. Maybe I could have done that on a street map or even with Google street view but it wouldn’t have been the same. I was able to absorb not only the sights, but also the sounds and smells, as well as the whole atmosphere of the place.

In short, I need to experience a place for myself. Not simply to avoid basic inaccuracies, but also to help my readers to experience it too. I admire those writers who can use settings with which they’re not personally familiar, but I find I need to be comfortable with my setting in order to give it some authenticity.

You can find out more about Paula on her Website; Blog; and Group Blog (with 3 other writers)

Paula Martin had some early publishing success with short stories and four contemporary romance novels, but then had a break from writing while she brought up a young family and also pursued her career as a history teacher for twenty-five years. She has recently returned to writing fiction, after retiring from teaching and has had two more novels published, His Leading Lady in June 2011, and Fragrance of Violets in 2012’. Two more novels are currently awaiting release and she is working on a fifth.

Paula lives near Manchester in North-West England, and has two daughters and two grandsons. Apart from writing, she enjoys visiting new places and has travelled extensively in Britain, mainland Europe, the Middle East, America and Canada. Her favourite places are the English Lake District and Ireland. She’s also interested in musical theatre and tracing her family history.

32 comments:

Jenny Twist said...

I agree with everything you say, Paula. I'm now having kittens, as I've set a (small) part of my next novel in India and I've never been, although I've read a lot about it. I'm now trying to find someone who knows about Hindu culture to check it for me!

Paula Martin said...

Thanks for visiting, Jenny. Can't help you with the Hindu culture (even though I saw 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' last week!). Occasionally I have to stray away from the familiar, such as when one of my heroes had to go to Iceland. I read up so much about Iceland and its volcanoes, and now I want to go there myself!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hi jenny - thanks for dropping in. Sometimes we have to use what we can!

Great to have you here today, Paula - I love that film!

Rosemary Gemmell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joanna said...

Thank you Rosemary and Paula for a lovely post.
Congratulations, Paula, on the publication of Fragrance of Violets - the characters and storyline sound exciting and intriguing, as well as the setting being irresistible. I love the Lake District.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for dropping in, Joanna - Paula is a lovely writer.

Anne E. Johnson said...

Paula and Rosemary, nice post! I agree that there's a special sense of intimacy both for writer and reader when the author is describing a place she knows. As an author of mainly historical fiction and science fiction, I haven't often had that luxury, but I certainly enjoy reading such descriptions!

I love that Mark Twain quote, by the way. What a wonderful sentiment.

Ana Morgan said...

Nice post, Paula and Rosemary. I read travel guides and do Internet searches about historical and modern settings I can't visit.

margaret blake said...

Wise words,you have to make certain that careful research is carried out.
I very rarely though set a novel in a specific area (although I did two in in the Tampa Bay area) and I have never been to Spain! However, it is important to get things right - as you say someone is bound to notice that the bus does not stop there!
Good luck with your latest novel, Paula.

Paula Martin said...

Thanks, Joanna - I love the Lake District too, especially the southern Lakes.

Anne - I have used (occasionally) places I don't know, but I'm much happier in the places with which I'm familiar. And yes, the Mark Twain quote is wonderful, isn't it? I knew as soon as I found it that I'd got the title for my novel.

Ana - the internet is wonderful for researching places. I also love Google Earth and street view.

Margaret - agree about careful research, and have found that even applies to places you know well. In 'Fragrance' I gave 'my' village a different name, although anyone who knows the area will probably recognise it!

Joan Fleming said...

Thank you, Paula and Rosemary for an interesting post - I agree that it's so easy to destroy the suspension of disbelief with an inaccurate detail. Careful research is so important.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hi Anne - great quote, isn't it!

Thanks for commenting, Ana!

Thanks for visiting, Margaret!

Hi Joan - absolutely!

Jennifer Wilck said...

You're so right, Paula. I try to limit my detailed descriptions of settings to places I've been, so I know the quirks. I'm always afraid of making one-way roads go the wrong way!

Paula Martin said...

Joan - agree about careful research, especially when it's so easy to find even obscure information on the internet these days.

Jen - good point about one-way roads!

Vikki said...

Great to see you do such detailed research. I tend to make up places in my books, although there's something fun about using a familiar setting so I may try to do that more often

Diane Fordham said...

Excellent post again Rosemary and thank you Paula for sharing such useful information about writing. I wish you every success with your book. :-)

Paula Martin said...

Vikki - I've made up places too, but even then I tend to find I'm still visualising some place I already know!

Thanks, Diane.

Gwen Kirkwood said...

Thank you Rosemary and Paula for another interesting and thought provoking blog.I also feel more confident and comfortable with places I know well, otherwise I invent fictitious settings.I have already downloaded Fragrance of Violets but I need to stop writing and catch up on my reading as I know I shall enjoy it.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for commenting, Jennifer and Vikki!

Thanks, Diane!

Hello Gwen - it's difficult getting enough time to read all these great books!

Celia Yeary said...

Very good topic, Paula. And I understand it perfectly. That's why I rarely use a real town in my books. Maybe I'll choose an area of Texas that I know well, and plop an invented town right in the middle. It's easy to create a town--not so easy to create an area.

One pet peeve I have is to read a novel set in Texas by someone not from Texas, and find errors, because that author tried to use a real town or city. I remember one such story, and the author had her hero and heroine riding "north" from Fort Worth to San Antonio. I won't ever forget that.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for visiting, Celia - I can imagine how annoying the Texas error must have been!

Paula Martin said...

Gwen, thanks so much for downloading Fragrance. I know what you mean about catching up with reading - I have 24 books waiting for me on my Kindle right now!

Celia, my village in Fragrance is -shall we say, "fairly similar" to a real village (my daughter recognised it!) but I have moved some buildings around!
The error you mentioned about Texas really is inexcusable, isn't it? All it would have taken was a quick glance at a map!

Paula Martin said...

Rosemary - thank you so much for having me as your guest :-)

Linda Swift said...

Paula, I really enjoyed reading this blog and you have very good advice. I am "guilty" of using real town names and then changing streets and buildings. And I had the unmitigatd gall to set my latest release in England and include Yorhshire accents. Yes, I'm sure my English friends and others will find many buses that didn't stop in those pages! And probably be too polite to point out my errors, but I hope they will tell me.

Paula Martin said...

Hi Linda
I changed the name of my village and moved some places in it, but one friend said she knew immediately where it was when I mentioned a shop near the car park!
And I thought you did the Yorkshire accent really well in Maid of the Midlands!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for visiting, Linda!

It's been lovely having you here, Paula!

Gilli Allan said...

I am very wary of using real places as the setting for my books because I know there are a lot of nitpickers out there, bound to complain if you manipulate the facts for the purpose of the story. So, although I do use landscapes and places which are familiar to me, I reinvent them and give them new names. Then I can play fast and loose with the facts!

Paula Martin said...

That's basically what I do, Gilli. That way you're safe from the nit-pickers - and I should know, because I've been guilty of nitpicking with people who play fast and loose with real locations, and get basic facts wrong!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

That's the best idea, Gilli - then you can change things around if necessary!

Talli Roland said...

Congrats, Paula - the books sounds like a fantastic read. I've always wanted to go to the Lake District.

K.C. Woolf said...

Thank you so much for this guest post, and lovely to meet Paula here!

I think it's a wonderful Mark Twain quote and it makes a lovely title. I also agree with the importance to know your setting well. My WIP is set in the Cotswolds, and even though I don't live there, I visit it regularly to discover new places, renew the feel for the area and double-check facts.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for leaving a comment, Talli! The Lake District is beautiful.

Hi K.C. - thanks for the lovely comment!