The place, or setting, where a novel takes place can be quite important to the reader. It might be a place s/he always wanted to visit, and about which s/he wants to read. Or, it could be a location where the reader used to live; perhaps it has sentimental value. Maybe it’s a mysterious, or even sinister, place. The setting can have an effect on the characters’ behaviour or attitudes, because a place can have a distinctive culture. And, of course, the setting can influence the plot.
My first two novels are set in locations with which I’m familiar. Fishing in Foreign Seas takes place in Sicily and in three other US cities where the principal characters live. My wife and I have a summer home in Sicily; we’ve been going there for many years, and some of its beauty, history and amazing culture are on display in the novel. Caterina, a young Sicilian woman from a traditional background is very different from Jamie, an American man from a well-to-do, northeastern family. Nonetheless, they fall in love, marry, and she moves with him to the States. Boston (where I’ve visited many times) and Philadelphia (where I grew up) are their first two destinations. Boston and Philadelphia are very different than Palermo, near which Caterina grew up. But these ‘old’ American cities have enough of an ‘old world’ feeling and culture about them that Caterina does not feel entirely out of place. It’s when they move to Atlanta that the trouble starts. To be fair to Atlanta, the troubles have more to do with Jamie’s constant business travel than they do with the location. But Atlanta is a modern city, and Caterina, as a foreigner, did not always feel welcome there. My older daughter went to university in Atlanta, and her younger sister used to live there. Neither of them felt out of place in Atlanta, but neither of them grew up in rural Sicily near Palermo.
Sin & Contritionis set primarily in Pittsburgh, and some of the characters move to New York City and Washington DC. I’ve lived in all three cities: they’re very different in their styles and cultures. In fact, Aspinwall, which was home to four of the characters and Fox Chapel, home to two of the characters, are neighbouring suburbs of Pittsburgh. I’ve lived in both communities. Aspinwall is a working class area, while Fox Chapel is a well-to-do neighbourhood. Yet all six of the characters attend the same schools. In fact, Pittsburgh is a kind of social melting pot. New York City, where the two characters from Fox Chapel end up living, represents – for many people – the pinnacle of financial success. And it’s Washington DC, where Gary, the poor boy from Aspinwall makes his mark as a US Congressman.
Efraim’s Eye,my third novel, which will be out this summer, follows a slightly different pattern. It is a terrorist thriller with a romance between two of the central characters. It is set in London (where I’m living now), and where the act of terrorism is to be carried out with great loss of life planned. Londoners remember ‘7/7’, the day in 2005 when four suicide bombers attacked the London transport system, killing 52 and injuring over 700. Much of the story takes place in Morocco, which my wife and I visited on holiday several years ago. Morocco is a magical, mystical place – home to a mixture of Islamic and ancient north African culture. It is in Marrakesh where a charity is being swindled to finance the act of terrorism and where the lovers make their discovery. But to add to the tension of the plot, the terrorist travels to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Chechnya to gather his bomb-making materials. I have been to none of those countries, and I’ve had to do considerable research about each place to make it real and to demonstrate the effects each place has on the characters.
(Efraim’s Eye has been published 24 September 2012.)
Some of my readers say that I am too detailed in my descriptions of places in my novels. I understand their point, and I try not to ‘guild the lily’ in my descriptive passages, but I think it’s important to the reader to feel that s/he is actually there!
For more information about my novels see www.williampeace.net.