I’m very pleased to introduce the lovely Jeanette Hewitt as my guest author today. Jeanette is the author of four novels including her latest, Exclusion Zone, described as “a gripping thriller that will keep readers hooked to the last page.”
A crime writer living in Suffolk, Jeanette has won the BritCrime Pitch Competition 2015 and was selected as a finalist in the Twisted 50 Short Story Horror Collection 2016. She is a member of the Crime Writers Association, the East Anglian Writers and is a regular at The Felixstowe Book Festival. Here, Jeanette gives us a fascinating insight into the importance of choosing the setting and location for her novels including Exclusion Zone.
Oh, and by the way Jeanette, I hope you will get round to publishing The Intelligence of Ravens – it sounds really intriguing!
The Setting of a Novel – Home or Away?
I’ve never been able to write a novel that’s close to home – geographically speaking. It started with my first published novel, Freedom First Peace Later. Set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the eighties, I didn’t really have an option on the location! My second novel, Worlds Apart, was a whimsical journey from the South of France, through the African wilderness to the sweeping moors of Yorkshire and it incorporated all of the places that I’ve been to and loved, or want to visit. Next up came The Intelligence of Ravens, an as yet unpublished tale of a brother and sister separated upon the invasion of their Jewish ghetto in Poland, with one sibling sent to Ravensbruck, a camp in Germany and the other making their way to London’s Soho. I adored the research into post-war London, using the infamous Windmill Theatre as the pinnacle for my setting. Just yesterday I walked down Great Windmill Street, and the history is embedded there like it is in so many city landmarks, never to be forgotten.
Now, of course, we have Exclusion Zone, my debut crime fiction novel set in… Chernobyl! Although in Exclusion Zone I wanted it to be real and genuine so for the parts set in England I chose the location of Fitzrovia, a district of London that’s within easy reach of Oxford Street, Hyde Park, Soho and the West End. I’ve stayed here many times and it is familiar and dear, a point which hopefully comes across in the novel. At the time of Exclusion Zone’s release, I was reading Tuesday Falling, a brilliant debut novel by S Williams which is centred mainly in London’s underground. I found the book spellbinding, and the research that must have gone into it applaud-worthy. Sometimes the setting in a novel makes the book, and as I write this I’m scrolling back through some of the novels I read last year to see if subconsciously the location made a difference. The Ice Twins, by S.K Tremayne, set on a tiny Scottish island of which the Moorcraft’s are the only inhabitants. Would this book have worked so well set in busy Birmingham? No, definitely not. You, by Caroline Kepnes, is set in New York, and the characters are so hip and on point and up to date I don’t think any other location would have made so much sense. I understand her follow up, Hidden Bodies, is set on the west coast of U.S.A, so that will be interesting to see how that differs when I read it. Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds would not have been the sweeping epic that it is without the desolate Australian sheep country setting.
So I am a fan of a setting but more than that, it seems to come naturally to me when I’m writing. I’m a third of the way through the sequel to Exclusion Zone and it’s set in the beachside resort of Scheveningen and The Hague. Again, I’ve visited these places and they are among my absolute favourites. On my last holiday there I’d not even started writing the book, but I knew it was going to be set there.
Who knows, one of these days I may decide to write something a little closer to home. After all, as history has taught us, murder and mayhem can happen in sleepy little Suffolk villages…