Some years back, I went the book launch of Stonemouth, written by the late (and extremely great) Iain Banks, where he admitted he made up the town where the novel is situated because he despised doing research.
That little titbit lodged in my subconscious, as I did the same a few years later when I wrote Artists Town and the Highland Books.
If you create a fictional town or village, there’s no need to worry about confusing the site of the town hall with the derelict church or placing two streets close together for narrative purposes (and risking a chorus of criticism in the reviews from the town/village’s real inhabitants).
Nor need you fret about people from those places presuming you’ve used them somewhere in the novel and portrayed them in an unfavourable light. The author Brooke Magnanti at another book event I attended stated that she made up the setting for her crime thriller, The Turning Tide, so as not to offend her Lochaber neighbours.
Artists Town, a coming-of-age tale set in a small Scottish town, was inspired by Kirkcudbright, the small Scottish town where I spent my formative years.
Let me let you into the secret of Kirkcudbright’s pronunciation. Those of us born in this tiny town nestled far from the madding crowds in the south-west of Scotland grew up chortling whenever the rare occasion of it meriting a mention on the national news arose and presenters mispronounced it Cur-cud-bright, when it’s—clearly—Cur-coo-bree.
Other Scottish place name minefields include Milngavie, pronounced Mull-guy, Strathaven, pronounced Stray-ven and Bearsden, pronounced Brendan.
(Kidding, Bearsden is pronounced exactly as it is written.)
Like Brooke Magnanti, I didn’t want to offend the locals, so I changed the name Kirkcudbright in the book to Kirkinwall. But because Kirkcudbright is one of the few places in the UK with a castle in the midst of it, any locals reading it will recognise the location straight away.
Mackies Fish and Chips plays a key role in Artists Town, and I based the establishment loosely on a sadly no-longer there chippie, Polar Bites, which had an excellent (and well deserved) reputation for its take on the UK’s favourite dish.
The Highland books, a series of romantic comedies/feel-good escapist novels, are set in the imaginary village of Lochalshie, which is a loose mix of Arrochar in Argyll and Bute, and Lochcarron in Wester Ross.
The Lochside Welcome, the local pub/hotel, is an important setting in the books and it resembles the Village Inn in Arrochar, appearance-wise, anyway. As far as I’m aware, it’s never played hosted the wedding of a reality TV star—also made-up—but given that she’s a member of a family who’ve been on MTV for many years and a ‘self-made’ billionaire whose fortune comes from a make-up and skincare company, there is no prize for guessing who she’s modelled on.
When you set your novels in bigger towns and cities, it´s okay to go with the real version, and I´ve used Glasgow, London, Norwich and even Great Yarmouth in my books, but small town settings will always be my preferred choice because it´s much easier to create a sense of community, which is why books and TV series set in smaller places appeal to so many people.
You can buy Artists Town and the Highland Books directly from the Pink Glitter Publishing store here.
I would have you in stitches of laughter if you took me on a tour of your favourite Scottish places. I can barely get my tongue around Australian place names. It’s hard to believe, Cantonese was my first language. Long forgotten now.
The other option for chips is gravy, especially on a Friday in a pub at lunch time.
Do you speak Cantonese with your mum and dad at all? Ah yes, gravy on chips. Curry sauce is another goodie too!
Sadly I stopped in primary school because of racism. I deliberately stopped anything Chinese. I wanted steak and chips and a knife rather than chopsticks
Oh, that is such a shame that happened to you at school and I can completely understand why you had to disassociate yourself.
I regret it now. At the time I felt it necessary to survive.
When you’re a child, the drive to belong/fit in (and avoid physical and emotional harm) is obviously very strong. While that kind of bullying will still go on, I think there’s enough progress been made that most children in Australia and the UK nowadays will not experience what you did.
I’m grateful than none of my children have experienced racism.
The school I went to in the 1970s had many children whose fathers had served in Vietnam during the war. Their attitudes rubbed off on their children.
Mmm… Chips and curry sauce is very good
Years ago, I appeared at the same event in Edinburgh’s Blackwells* as the writer Vicki Jarrett, whose first novel Nothing is Heavy had recently come out. The action all takes in Junction Street – a chippy, stripclub, nail bar and so on – it was a lively, if pretty run-down street. She was asked why she’d set it in Edinburgh (as in Great Junction St in Leith) but Ms Jarrett replied she hadn’t – “Junction Street” was made-up. But there must be “Junction Streets” in every city, and they must all look the same, because readers everywhere assumed it was set in their OWN town – as far away as Merthr Tydvil apparently. Quite a trick if you can pull that off.
*Note how I dropped that in…
Quite a trick indeed!
I went to Polar Bites on our only visit to Kirkudbright. Very tasty fish n chips. Shame it’s closed. X