Visit or make up?
I found myself in Ireland the other week celebrating St Patrick’s Day with my brother who reached his significant half century on the very day. “As the Irish have so kindly laid on a party each year for my birthday I felt this was the year to attend the celebrations” was how the invitation began. Well not one for missing the opportunity for adventure I agreed to join him taking Sexy Sporty Dad and Number 1 Son, along with other members of the family.
All the arrangements made we waited through the autumn. Christmas came and went and life began a fresh hectic New Year of work commitments, socialising and motherhood. I woke early each morning and did a small amount of writing noticing that the dawn rose earlier than I these days. Some mornings were dedicated to editing rather than the far easier subject of writing.
Oh a writer’s life would be so much more productive and even lucrative if we could skip the editing. I know all about “honing the story” and ”crafting my tale” but I cannot get in to the “ editing zone”, no matter how I try!
This month I had reached, eventually, a really critical editing section of my story “Memories”. The story was at a point where all the evidence had come in and the fighting really starts. The scene where my protagonist has to get her family into hiding as the information breaks to her antagonist and the world’s media. For some inexplicable reason I had put them on a plane from Bristol to Cork and out to the tiny cove of East Ferry. (First rewrite after NANO 2010 had finished).
I do not believe in co-incidences; but I happened to be editing this very journey about four weeks ago. I thought about my protagonist’s trip and how I was travelling from Bristol to Cork for St Patrick’s day. Cork is not the out of the blue location you may have thought; my Grandfather was born and raised in Cork or just outside and our plan was to visit his home town while there. So when looking for a place for my novel family to visit in Ireland; Cork was the obvious choice. The characters live near Bath so Bristol Airport was also eminently sensible.
How many other parallels will I find in my stories?
Five years later I was now following her footsteps. (Is there something spooky or stalkerish about retracing my fictional heroine?) A visit to Cobh was on the cards for the historical value linked to the Titanic, and as it was not far from Monkstown where my grandfather was actually born. Another look at Google Earth was called for and confirmed East Ferry was just beyond Cobh. The train and ferry plans abandoned while a search of the internet revealed many car hire firms from the airport.
We did make it to Monkstown where my brother and mother knocked on the door of the family home (long since sold) to apologise for the torrent of photographers and attention the house was receiving. The door slowly opened and expecting a short apology, we all stood agog as they were invited inside and the door closed. 10 minutes of cold and discussion led us to the warmth of the tiny Italian coffee house round the corner where the smell of cappuccinos and lattes infused the nostalgic aura surrounding us. The others joined us later; the house owners knew of my mother’s family but they had all gone a long time ago.
With the St Patrick’s parade due to start back in Cork, Cobh was the dropped excursion from this visit’s itinery. I kept East Ferry on my agenda for after the parade.
East Ferry was not quite how I imagined it to be. There is very little there; a few houses, a pub and a view right up and down the River Lee estuary, and not forgetting a small ferry crossing. The internet claims it to have a fairly major sailing school. However, the house I was looking for was not. I remembered looking on Google Earth; the house had been there, I had checked it several times in the run up to the visit, the view from it photographed and uploaded to the web; I knew it so well. Could I have the wrong place? Could there be another East Ferry?
Sexy Sporty Dad who had accompanied me on this particular quest suggested hesitatingly as we drove away from the few village houses, we find somewhere on the narrow lane to turn round and get back to the hotel for dinner. Well at least I had found the village, I was full now of reservations whether it would serve my purpose and which house? Does it really matter in a story if you use a real house or made up one? He pointed ahead, a small row of cottages at the end of which a wider area leading into a drive way where we can turn.
The row of cottages, the middle one! It was not the most dignified of stops and luckily the road was fairly deserted as I would have blocked any passing traffic. I was out of the car, camera in hand shooting shots for posterity. Clambering through a small gap in the hedge to the precipice of the cliff drop I found the internet view shot taken from the house. Coming back through, I could see in all its glory, the very house my fictional family stayed in. Apologies to the current owners who have probably owned it for years but this was to be my holiday home.
I took the obligatory photos and shots of the river looking both up and down. I dictated how we had got there. We turned round and drove back through the village or rather past the pub which seemed to provide the only change of use other than the church, and along the coast. We reached as far out the other side as the house had been and turned the corner away from the tiny port. Here we found another cottage with an even better location that fits my story. So back to my question should I visit the places first or make them up to suit my purposes?
How many novels have real places but with made up parts and how many are set in fictitious worlds that resemble visitable places?
Ireland was just a short stopover and I would have loved to have stayed longer but my research was a very powerful emotion. I had lived with my fictional memory for so long; then finding the reality of its existence provided an unexpected climax to my trip.
Back to reality and editing has taken its place back in the lower etches of the pecking order. Just a few days break allows my priority list to reach urgent and important again. I am managing to keep writing fresh work but nothing to send out yet and the synopsis and cover letter await my attention once the edit is finished.
Maybe next NANOWRIMO I will base my story on a wonderfully relaxing holiday on Bermuda or Hawaii, scuba diving, swimming and eating exotic fresh fruit!