Sunday, 2 February 2014

Writing process - Tradition and local variations

Today's blog is really about enriching the quality of settings for your writing. It must be remarked that it isn't essential but if you are hoping to engage your readers emotionally then verifiable local detail can achieve that. I begin with the humble Yorkshire pudding.

Each February, the first Sunday of the month is designated British Yorkshire Pudding Day. 

The Yorkshire pudding was traditionally made in a large tin, rather than the individual puddings that we are familiar with today.  Often it was served before the main meal - which helped to fill hungry mouths so less meat needed to be served - particularly during hard times!
The traditional way of eating these sumptuous, plump delightful delicacies is with roast beef - but I can eat them with any roast meat - chicken, turkey, pork or just on their own.

The above is the 'official' line but of course there are regional variations. I am not a Yorkshireman but my Mum made Yorkshires every Sunday. They are not difficult to make but the extra flavour and crispiness depends on small additions such as meat fat in the pudding tin, 2 tablespoons of cold water in the batter mix and an extremely hot oven. What ever you do and however you serve them, if they come out right they are beautiful.

The Steele novels have their basis in Yorkshire and whether it is description of places or local traditions they are the 'cement' that secures the setting in the readers mind. It isn't necessary to flood your work with such detail as it can 'clog' your story but small touches can go a long way. In the Steele stories I try to create a local atmosphere and hopefully continue that in all of the stories. Obviously, if you are worried about the readership not wanting to read stories from a particular country or region then you will attempt to write something blandly generic. I believe that in creating a setting for a story the purpose is to produce a vision in the readers mind so detail is essential. As in many aspects of writing it is a question of balance.

The research of your setting is important and comes back to the age old advice of 'write what you know' in whichever form suits. However, we are fortunate in the 21st Century in having the internet. I'm not suggesting that a writer never leaves the confines of the dusty and sterile writing room, but using Google Earth and the like can save time and money. I can honestly say that in all of Patrick A Steele's travels there isn't a country that I've used that I personally haven't visited. Visiting a place doesn't just give experiences that are of a physical nature but also of less tangible aspects that create the atmosphere existing in a different place. It is then a challenge to recreate that atmosphere in the books. Hence Osaka in Japan I've tried to convey crowdedness, humidity and cleanliness whereas in France it is less humid, spacious and can appear slightly unkempt.

Wherever you decide to set your story try and stick to what you know it takes the pressure off. Below is a photo of Doxford House which figures in two or three of the Steele novels and I'm sure that it may inspire someone to write it into their work. It is a real house that is about a mile away from where I spent much of my childhood but has its own secluded, slightly 'spooky' nature that a photograph cannot convey.

God Bless