Location, Locaton by Neil McGowan

I’ve been out and about the last couple of days, and with more to come. The reason? Twofold, really. One is to spend some time with my family – my wife and I have next week off, and it’s the school holidays here in Scotland so what better opportunity. The other reason is more selfish – I’m looking around for inspiration and ideas of locations that may fit into current or future stories.

Although I generally write contemporary crime for adults, I try to place it in a setting I’m familiar with, which usually means Edinburgh and its surroundings. As I usually have a few ideas of certain key scenes when working out the details of a book or story, I find it helpful if I can ground them in real places. My most recent book for adults, The Missing, had certain elements of the plot altered when I wrote the first draft as I worked in real places. (Of course, I usually change the names of places, although a person familiar with the area will almost certainly know what I’m really referring to.)

For me, this grounds the story in reality. For example, I was able to work out the timings of an abduction because the route my fictional antagonist took was one I’ve driven many times – I know exactly how long it takes; as a result, it was possible for me to work in other elements of a sub-plot that would make sense because of the times and distances involved. It felt real. A few of my beta readers have commented on this, saying the locations really spring to life for them.

I’ve used the same techniques in my young adult fiction. These books tend to be more action-adventure orientated with a decent dose of the supernatural, but the way I see it, the same rules apply; in fact, I’d argue more so – a location grounded in reality makes the supernatural elements feel more plausible. In one of them, I had a big set piece that took place in Dirleton Castle, on the East Lothian coast. It’s a site I know well, being as I got married there! It’s one of the most enjoyable pieces I can recall writing, despite being quite dark in tone.

Similarly, another one was set in the Middle East. I spent five years living and working there, and knew I wanted to write about it. I had the pictures and the setting, but no story. Then, as usually happens, something unrelated cropped up (overhearing a stroppy teenager arguing with her parents) and the two ideas seemed to click. I played about with a few things and ended up writing what I think is my favourite book so far.

(As an aside, my 1st reader, who happens to be my eldest daughter, has the same
opinion – she keeps asking when I’m going to write another book featuring the same characters.)

Today’s trip was to Craigmillar Castle. The photos in this post are all ones I took today. I don’t have a story for them, at least, not yet, but in the future… Time will tell.


For a moment there, I thought you were with Kirsty & Phil on 'Location, Location, Location' looking to buy a castle... when I was a kid, I thought all authors lived in castles :-)
Neil McGowan said…
Lol, funnily enough, Pauline and I did look at the possibility of a castle a few years ago but the costs were astronomical. But thinking about it, I suspect it's better not to live in one, as it would take away the mystery for me

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