There’s lots of these #setting gems on Twitter.
Often #setting and #books get synonymous with classics such as Wuthering Heights… how the moors matched the moods and the broody character of Heathcliff etc etc, and how Wuthering Heights could never have been set anywhere else…
As Lily Malone, the books I’ve written pretty much thus-far have been vineyard and winery settings, rural settings, and small town. I write real towns, not fictional settings, and I write about places I’ve visited and lived, and places that I love. I also write very Australian, meaning: a ‘thong’ in any book of mine will be something you put on your feet, not on your butt.
And then to confound it all, I just wrote a book where setting really doesn’t seem to matter much. Here’s why.
As I was starting to write my query for agents (most of whom were in the US), I found myself very tempted not to mention the book was set in Australia, and instead to say something like, this is a story that could happen anywhere. The moment my poor brain pondered this, all those #setting tweets started doing the neon chorus line can-can behind my eyes, as did the #InstantAgentRejectHitDeleteFasterThanUsainBoltCanRun tweet (That hashtag is proudly mine).
How could I possibly have written a book set in Australia that could also be set in America or England or Italy? And if I could even consider doing this, did that mean the book was dead in the water before it started?
I don’t think so.
The book I’m talking about is set in Margaret River and Busselton – south west of Western Australia. It requires small towns, not too far apart from each other, and it requires those small towns to be near the beach (needs some surf), and within 2-3 hours (drive time) of a major city, in my case, Perth. A wine region is good, the more touristy the better. Margaret River works for that.
Adelaide/South Australia could have worked too. I’ve lived in South Australia and I know how to write about scenery, places & geography there. I could have set the book on the Yorke (might have struggled with the surf) or Fleurieu Peninsulas; even as far south east as Mt Gambier or Robe. Those are all winey and touristy, and within that radius of Adelaide.
I need a capital city close by because I need a hospital. A major aka big fuck-off hospital. Because my protagonist ends up in an almighty car accident and requires major surgery and a bloody long recovery. But it could be any hospital right? Anywhere in a major city, near the beach, about three hours drive from a small town.
The only other incident in my book that is Aussie-specific involves my hero hitting a kangaroo in his car, not linked to the accident mentioned first. (Hmmm, note to self: my hero’s driving skills are now appearing a touch on the crappy side of average.)
So, I’m thinking. I could switch this book to anywhere else in Australia that fits the bill of being 2-3 hours from Sydney, Brisbane, Darwin, Adelaide or Melbourne; on a surf coast, with a wine region. (Might have to scrap Darwin at this point and Brisbane is looking iffy for the wine.)
If I set it in America, or England, on the coast, in a wine region (oops, might have just dumped England on this ‘wine’ basis too) my hero could run into a deer couldn’t he (a baby one)? A badger? Any of those myriad animals that can dash across a road on a dark night and cause a ‘bit of a bingle’ or the equivalent American expression for ‘bingle’.
Actually, this begins my greater questions/problems relating to uprooting my Aussie book into an American setting: converting my Aussie-isms to American-isms. And, given much of my book plays out in a hospital setting, I’d have to get up to date with the American insurance/medical system and how that beast works.
So, even as I write, I'm thinking I’ll keep it in Australia. But that's because I'm lazy, not because it couldn't be done.
Writers: have you written a story that could be set anywhere in the world? And readers, think about your favourite books. Could they have been set anywhere different?