A sense of place

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Monday musings on writing

By Seb Kirby

I think it’s important for a story to have a sense strong of place. You don’t have to point as far back as the importance of London in Dickens’ novels or the Salinas Valley in John Steinbeck’s ‘East Of Eden’. A more recent example is the coastal enclave of Montauk in the HBO long form TV drama ‘The Affair’. Place becomes as much a central character in these stories as the players themselves, breathing life into the story.

That’s why I’ve visited and spent time in all the places featured in my books. It’s not that I favor extensive descriptions of places (or people for that matter). It’s more that the feel of a place comes through in the writing once you’ve spent time there and absorbed the sights and sounds.

I was fortunate that before I took up writing full time my job obliged me to make many visits each year worldwide. This often took me to places in Europe (Portugal, Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Crete, Denmark, Romania), the US/ Canada (New York, Boston, Monterey, San Francisco, San Antonio, Austin, San Diego, Detroit, Orlando, Minneapolis, London Ontario, Toronto) and the Far East (China, Japan). Because of the nature of the work, it was often possible to stay over after business was completed and explore. This gave some great eye-openers. Like an ill-advised bus trip from San Diego Old Town across the border to Tijuana that made real the vast disparities between two ways of life. Or spending time in English Corner in Shenyang (in what was Manchuria in northern China) where the charming locals come to practice their English—much of it gained from US film and TV—in conversation with visiting English speakers.

Though I travel less these days, I still pay regular visits to two places that are special to me and my writing: London and Florence, as much for their cultural vibrancy as their enthralling locations.

Sometimes whole plot lines emerge from a single observation. Like the time I was in a restaurant in Florence when they charged for an order I hadn’t received. When I went to complain to the manager, a heavy in a black leather jacket intervened to make sure I knew not to be too insistent and I should accept that overcharging was more normal here than where I come from. This formed the germ of the ideas that led to the organized crime elements of Take No More and the rest of the James Blake story. To be fair to the wonderful city of Florence, the presence of organized crime is a rarity this far north in Italy but this didn’t stop my leap of imagination and its usefulness in telling the story.

In the digital world, “visiting” places becomes simpler and less liable to destroy the planet with wasted plane travel. Google Maps with its street view feature allows an author to walk those streets again from the (relative) comfort of his/her writer’s desk. I find this a particularly useful means of visualizing scenes where characters are out and about, active in their location, especially to refresh memories of places I’ve walked myself. More comes back than the visual experience itself. I recommend this to all writers as a means of capturing a sense of place in their work.

However you do it, sense of place helps bring a story to life.

Seb Kirby, thriller, psychological thriller and science-fiction

Seb Kirby

was literally raised with books: his grandfather ran a mobile library in Birmingham, UK and his parents inherited a random selection of the books. Once he discovered a trove of well-used titles from Zane Gray’s Riders of the Purple Sage, HG Wells’ The Invisible Man and Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities to more obscure stuff, he was hooked.

He’s been an avid reader ever since.

He is author of the James Blake thriller series, Take No More, Regret No More and Forgive No More; the science-fiction thriller, Double BindEach Day I Wake; and Sugar for Sugar. His latest book is another psychological thriller, Here the Truth Lies.

Seb can be found:

BestSelling Reads author page  |   Amazon Author page  |   Facebook   |   Twitter   |    Goodreads   |   LinkedIn   |    Website & blog 

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Thursday teaser: A Case of Sour Grapes

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A Case of Sour Grapes - mystery by Gae-Lynn Woods

This week’s mystery teaser comes from the acclaimed novel

By Gae-Lynn Woods

PARKING AROUND THE SQUARE was a nightmare during business hours, but I managed to slip my Lexus into a spot vacated by the flower shop’s delivery van. The hike up the steps to the agency’s second floor offices seemed much steeper than I remembered from my interview yesterday. Well, interview might be a little strong. I called Aunt Kay to tell her I wanted to be a private detective, and after she stopped laughing and got the hiccups under control, she invited me to come in for a chat. It took a while to convince her that I was serious, that this wasn’t another flight of fancy from her daft niece. She finally relented after I talked non-stop for forty-five minutes. Thank goodness for that. I was going hoarse.

But now that the moment of truth had arrived, standing outside the door with “Lost and Found Investigations — No Job Too Big or Small” written on the frosted glass, nerves fluttered in my stomach. I wasn’t sure I was up for this. I knew for sure I wasn’t up for being a police detective like my best friend. That girl had balls of brass. Mine were more like copper: warm and pretty, but easily dented.

This is it, I told myself. The point of no return. Here’s to finding my rapist.

I shifted my lucky Louis Vuitton bag higher on my shoulder and twisted the doorknob before my Blahnik’s walked me right back down the stairs. Three pairs of green eyes, each a variation of my own, glanced up at me.

Cousin Cindy smirked. “Maxine Leverman finally arrives. Ten bucks, please. Everybody pay up.”

The agency was beautifully designed. Four glassed-in offices opened onto the reception area, one each for Babby and Kay, one for Cindy, and the last for temps or in this case, me. The glass walls were on tracks and remained open unless a meeting demanded privacy. The rest of the walls were a pale blue, and the building’s original hardwood floors were covered by Persian rugs and runners. Morning light fell through the skylights and the sense was of an open, airy space. Except for Cindy’s office, which had an artfully placed Japanese screen hiding her clutter. The rest of the area housed a conference room, storage closets, a fully equipped kitchen, powder room, and a full-sized bathroom.

Aunt Babby scowled as she dug in her purse. “If you’d waited until ten o’clock, Maxine, I’d have won. Five more minutes. If you’re going to be late, do it right girl, and help your aunt win some hard cash.”

I pulled off my over-sized shades and placed the bag of donut holes from The Palace on Babby’s desk, and the large envelope from the bank on Aunt Kay’s desk. “You three had a pool on when I’d get here?”

“Not just the three of us,” Cindy said. “Jake the janitor thought you’d make it by ten after eight. Silly man. But Arty was the real skeptic. He didn’t think you’d get here until noon.”

“Who’s Arty?” I asked.

“The gorgeous lawyer who rented the other half of the floor. Cindy’s been trying to get her talons into him since he arrived,” Kay answered. “He saw you come upstairs yesterday. Cindy filled him in on your less attractive attributes, time-keeping being one of them.”

I sipped my extra large coffee from The Golden Gate and watched as Babby peeked in the bag. She seemed to battle with herself for a moment, but finally picked a donut hole and popped it in her mouth. Her eyes rolled. “Grease, flour, and sugar make up for many a shortcoming, sweetie pie, but next time bring me a cinnamon roll.”

“Be careful what you wish for, Aunt Babs. With Max’s track record, you’ll be eating donuts every day.” Cindy stood and smoothed the black pencil skirt over her shapely hips and sauntered to the door. “For the record, Arty’s into me.” She shook her mane of chestnut colored hair and checked her teeth for lipstick in the mirror near the agency’s door. “Be back in a flash.”

Babby plucked another donut hole from the bag. “I’m off to the post office and bank. Given that it’s hot enough to fry chicken, I’ll be driving. Show Maxine that financial stuff, Kay. See what she can do with it.”

About A Case of Sour Grapes

Wine, women, and song. What could possibly go wrong?

Meet Maxine Leverman, lover of expensive shoes, beautiful handbags, and her lingerie wearing ex-husband’s hush money. When she pleads her way into a job at family run Lost and Found Investigations, Maxine’s only goal is to gain the concealed carry license and PI skills she needs to find the man who attacked her, and then kill him. (Or maybe just put him in jail, that decision can wait.)

But when she secretly takes a missing husband case on her first day at the agency, she stumbles into a high-stakes game of blackmail and murder. Maxine must unravel the links between a forgotten folk punk band, an international drug cartel, and the tangled history of the missing husband to keep the women in his life alive.

Fans of the early Stephanie Plum novels and Stuart Woods’ Holly Barker series will love Maxine’s tenacity, grit, and lust for life.

Meet the author

mystery author Gae-Lynn Woods

Gae-Lynn Woods is a Texan mystery writer who has traveled the world, lived overseas, and come back home. She and her husband, British jazz guitarist Martyn Popey, share a ranch in East Texas with a herd of Black Angus cattle, one very cranky donkey, and The Dude, a rescue kitty with attitude.

Visit Gae-Lynn’s

BestSelling Reads page   |   Amazon author page   |   Facebook   |   Twitter   |   Google+   |   Goodreads   |   LinkedIn   |    Website   |    Blog

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