Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Miscellany

I was looking out the window of the train a fair bit this morning. I usually have my eyes pretty much glued to the screen of my computer to work on my WIP Veiled in Storms. But this morning was cold, close to as cold as it gets in Melbourne. We had our first frost of the season, I had to clean ice off my windscreen so I could drive to the station.

My journey to work starts with a ten minute drive to our nearest station at Hurstbridge. My next hour or so is spent on the train into the heart of Melbourne. On the way in I always get a seat because Hurstbridge is the first station (or last depending which way you are going) on the line.

Normally I write the whole way, with the occasional glance at the other passengers or at the passing scenery. For roughly the first half of the trip the line meanders along one of green areas we are privileged to have in Melbourne. In this case the Diamond Creek Valley (isn’t that an amazing name?). Normally, although the scenery is worth watching I don’t look because writing is more important to me than trees and fields I have seen hundreds of times.

This morning was different the valley was covered with thick white frost and enveloped in mist. So the routine had become almost a different place. Very beautiful and very distracting.

But of course the writerly side of me took over and I began imagining the frost was snow and the mist was a Russian Blizzard. I was half expecting Zhukov’s Siberian troops to come bursting out of the mist riding their tanks as they fought to save Moscow in December 1941. (Anyone want to guess what I am writing about at the moment)

That of course made me think about place. Place is very important in fiction. I’ve never been to Russia or experienced a blizzard so how do I write with authenticity about places and times I have never been to?

I guess there are a number of solutions. One is to take advantage of places you have been. So in my novel Veiled in Shadows I chose to set a scene at a university in Oxford in the UK rather than in Cambridge. I’ve walked the streets in Oxford, I never quite made it to Cambridge. Similarly I’ve seen country around the Black Forest in Germany where another section of the novel is set.

But I’ve never been to Russia, and most of Veiled in Storms takes place there. So in my case it comes down to research. I watch every piece of video of the time and place I can get my hands on. I look at maps (period if possible) and Google Earth and I read. Usually biography from the place and time is great. In translation I most definitely do not read Russian, I can pretend with German or French (OK I’m lying but at least the alphabet is the same). Fiction written in the place and time is also really useful even if it isn’t what you’d normally read. But be careful, translators can lead you astray, I am fairly sure that Russians in the 1940s did not use the term “motherfuckers”. Yes, something equally derogatory but probably not that term.

So if you are a writer what do you do? Do you stick to what you ‘know’ or do you venture further afield?
And how important is it to be authentic?

Now finally, and in a completely different vein. I got my new camera on Friday night (Yay!) It is proving more difficult to learn then I thought. It is so different to my rather basic previous model. However I am getting some good piccies from it already .

A random sample of what I have taken since Saturday (most of these are worth clicking to enlarge).
The Yarra River.A long exposure taken without a tripod, image stabilizers are brilliant!

Some tiny flowers (I have no idea what they are, but a succulent and so not native)

Some tiny baby ‘spitfire caterpillars’ Actually they are not caterpillars at all. They are sawfly larvae. If you think they are ugly now imagine them two inches long, covered in bristles and vomiting a sticky mess of eucalyptus oil at you. But they are native so I love them and they are very sociable (to each other).

Autumn leaves.Great colour saturation with this camera!

And finally as appropriate for the end of a post. The sunset last night.


Theresa Milstein said...

Your pictures always leave me amazed.

What to do when you write about a place you haven't been? Read writers who live or who have visited there, or interview someone who lives there. That's my advice. Good luck!

For me, I make up a lot of stuff, since I write fantasy. But I usually ground it by writing a place I know. That could change.

Misha said...

I love the pic of the autumn leaves. ^_^

I'm a bit mixed on authenticity. Yes, it's good if the story can feel authentic, but... the fact is that the places and culture will always remain an interpretation from the writer's experience. I don't think anyone can escape this. :-)

Linda G. said...

Gorgeous pics. Well, maybe not the spitfire caterpillars. But they are...interesting.

My books are set all over the globe, including places I've never been. I research the heck out of those places, of course. Since my books are contemporary, I find YouTube to be a big help. It lets me see a place "in motion," through the eyes of actual visitors.

Old Kitty said...

Golly gosh those sawfly larvae!!

I stick to what I know cos I'm not that confident a writer to venture further! Take care

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

It's amazing how the same trees, the same landscape, that you've seen a thousand times before suddenly became "new" again with a touch of unusual frost, isn't it? I think the concept you've described so well in mentioning how your train trip through the usual terrain captured your imagination today is the same concept that can make the background of your stories come alive to your readers. The attention to details can elicit images that will linger in their minds, and make the place you're describing become real to them. Research? Absolutely, you must research to get the broad strokes right, but the best details will mostly come from your imagination.

Ann said...

The sunset is my favorite. I am a stick to what I know sort of person...and then I make it up!

Clarissa Draper said...

Creepy sawflys!

Anyways, I say venture out there. Why write what you know, just do as much research as you can and get great readers.

February Grace said...

I always love your pictures...

If you need any sensory details to go with snowstorms, drop an email and let me know. I'd be happy to offer a few- in form of answer to questions if you have any, that kind of thing.

I even posted a short video clip on FB last winter of one of our worst snowstorms. I've written several poems about the winter last year that may give you something to work from too in various styles.

We had the fourth snowiest winter on record here last winter.

I hope to move before I ever see another. 39 of them is more than enough for me.


The Words Crafter said...

My nano novel is set in a city in my state, so no big deal there. I just have to visit and get some authenticity.

My other one is gonna be a bit different; it takes place all over the world, and a lot in the middle east, so I'll be doing some studying big time. There's a guy I want to interview, too. He was stationed in Iraq....

It boggles my brain to imagine Australia with frost! *whimper* I would trade it for all the humidity we're having. I wilt in the summer.

Those pics are gorgeous. My fave is the autumn leaves one. Stunning color!

Michelle Teacress said...

Yes, I venture beyond what I know (I learn a lot that way), but my best writing happens when I stick with what I know.

Have fun with the new camera. :)

Susan Fields said...

Those are some beautiful pictures with your new camera!

I wish I liked research more, but I don't, so I either stick to what I know or make up new worlds. I do research some, because there's just no way around it, but I try to avoid it whenever possible. :)

Lisa said...

I think it's probably important to write about what you know but that doesn't mean everything in a book has to be strictly about what you know. I think, with research, you can definitely capture and time and place.