Writing and Travel: exploring new places in fiction

So many of us love books because they give us an opportunity to enter a new world. Whether that’s a magical, alternative world or a country you’ve always wanted to see, fiction can take us there. I’d argue, in a way that non-fiction doesn’t.

Seeing characters you know experience and explore somewhere gives us an emotional insight as well as a practical one.

One of my favourite books (if not my absolute favourite ever) is Shadows of the Wind by Carlos Luis Zafron. It’s set in historical Barcelona and it’s so incredibly magic, so that when you go to Barcelona, you can see it in all the mystery of the book.

Places tie us in fiction. Whether it’s a comment about Kings Cross station platforms, or the description of a seaside resort you visited once as a child, fiction can make us feel connected through recognition.

So when the time comes to write books, it makes sense to take inspiration from the places you’ve been to, and the places you dream of.

My upcoming book, The Book of Us, was a mixture of these places for me. It’s a story about two friends going on the trip they’d always meant to do after university, but had never managed because they had a falling out.

In one instance I took some wonderful memories I had of touring Australia and put my characters in a surf camp on the Gold Coast. I visited Surfaris about 10 years ago and it was magic. It was my first time travelling alone, having to make friends and spending my time saying ‘Yes’. I loved surfing and always wanted to go back to surf camp. So I sent my characters there instead.

Another place featuring in the book is Seville. I set the book there and wrote it knowing that I was due to go in February last year. I came back and made a few changes, based on what I’d learnt and added in a few images that I’d loved. I would never have guessed how much Flamenco was being performed in the streets, for example. So I added that in.

I definitely found that using real experience made it more real. Which was why I was a little concerned writing about the third place….Finland.

Mainly because I’ve never been. I’ve chased the Northern Lights (unsucessfully) in Iceland. I’ve been snowboarding in some lovely places. But I’ve always wanted to go to one of those beautiful glass igloos. So I spent time researching as if I was going on that holiday myself! I can’t say it was difficult!

What books and places do you love? Are there any places you discovered through fiction that you went on to visit?

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