Thursday 30 December 2021

Writing Workshop: Location

I just want to have a quick word today about the importance of location when it comes to writing, especially in works of fiction.

It is supremely important when we set our story somewhere that the place where it is set actually feels believable. This can be a real tripping point for books. We may be enjoying the characters, the dialogue and the plot, but there is something that feels somewhat askew, something that we can’t quite put our finger on. More often than not, it is the place where the story is taking place, most likely because it feels vague or unbelievable. It could be that the author has set a story in a city that they have never visited, so it lacks the smell of local cuisine or the sights that one would expect to see from that place’s landmarks. This would be like me setting my stories in New York. Sure, I’ve seen it on the television and in films, but there’s no way that I could do it justice. It would feel like a cardboard cutout of the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty which have been smeared in hot dogs and bagels! Or it could be a fantasy land where the writer is basically making it up as they go along, so the reader just does not feel engaged with a wishy washy background to an otherwise decent tale. The reader just sees elves and orcs battling it out on a landscape which is continually changing shape and not adhering to ever-changing arbitrary rules.

So, my suggestion, when you are starting out, is to take a place that is familiar to you and use that. It could be your country, your town or even your house. Explore details of the surroundings and look at what they mean to your characters. Include things about these places that are special to you, and your love (or even, hatred) of those places will shine through in your writing and help the reader to engage with your story.

This is why I set the bulk of my stories in my hometown of Lancaster. It is familiar to me; I know all its little quirks and details. I can then bring these in a neat little package to my readers, the vast majority of whom have never been here, and they can immediately pick up a sense of the city and its surroundings. Plus, they can see how the location affects my characters such as Sam Spallucci, my investigator of the paranormal.

Have a go. See how you can get on. Take somewhere that really means something to you and just play with it.

Wednesday 15 December 2021

Spalluccipedia - Sam Spallucci

     I often get asked, "Where did the idea for sam Spallucci come from?"

    The short answer to this is a teenage blend of Mike Hammer and, amongst other movies, a pirated copy of An American Werewolf in London. I was a huge fan of the former and terrified by the latter (I still can't open the front door if it's dark and the Muppets are on TV. I'm sure you know which scene I'm referring too...). I was also heavily influenced by an old Hammer werewolf whodunnit The Beast Must Die, as I explained in my little video from January 2021.

    So, one evening, when I should have been doing my chemistry homework, I sat down at this ancient Bulgarian typewriter that my dad had obtained from god knows where and wrote this, what I called, a novel (it was in fact just five or six pages…) about a fedora wearing private eye who gets called in to track down a werewolf that’s rampaging through a small village. The next day, I showed it to my mate as we sat at the back of the chemistry lesson avoiding being asked questions on a subject for which neither of us had prepared. He read it through and said that he really enjoyed it, especially the detective. He said that it was like Sam Spade meets the Wolfman. I took this as high praise indeed and as I had actually neglected to give my detective a memorable name, this suggestion got me to thinking. Sat on the other side of me was a girl named Maria Gallucci. I took Spade and Gallucci, then just glued them together and Sam Spallucci, investigator of the paranormal was born.

    Sam sort of stayed like that for about ten years or so until I drifted back to him in my twenties and started playing around with certain scenarios and realising that he could fit into the same universe as Fallen Angel, another novel that I was chipping away at. So it was that I finally knuckled down in my mid-thirties and, just after my fortieth The Casebook of Sam Spallucci was finished.

    At the time of writing this, I'm up to Sam Six (Bloodline) with four more due for release over the next few years before he catches up with the events of Fallen Angel. So, he's got a way to go yet and I hope we enjoy the journey alongside Lancaster's very own investigator of the paranormal.

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