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The importance of setting in a romance novel, with author Jennifer Young

I’m chuffed to welcome back Scottish author Jennifer Young today. Jennifer is a fellow member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and she came to my blog last year (you can read her interview here). We’ve met several times in real life through the RNA, and I’m looking forward to meeting Jennifer even more often when she moves to join us Sassenachs south of the border :)

Jennifer lives in beautiful Edinburgh – the setting for my new release, The Scottish Diamond – and so I’m intrigued to hear which places in the world Jennifer has chosen for the settings for her own novels, and why.

Thanks for coming back, Jennifer!

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Location, Location, Location…

jen photo 1
The beautiful island of Majorca

I just can’t help it. Maybe it’s the fact that I studied, and loved studying, geography. Maybe it’s the fact that I love travel. I don’t know, but whatever it is, it seems that whenever I go somewhere new I end up with a new plot. Even my collection of notebooks that I carry round with me usually have some kind of a map on the front and if I ever find a notebook with a picture of the place I’m writing about, I’m in heaven.

I don’t always finish them. Come on, I don’t even work most of them up into what might pass for a plot. But the ideas are still there, bubbling up under the inspiration of a new view, a new angle, a new place.

Of course, some places are more interesting than others. There may well be a steamy romantic novel or two set in the dark and mysterious heart of Hull, or for that matter Wolverhampton or Milton Keynes. If they exist, I haven’t come across them. On the other hand there are many, many books written about exotic locations.

Cities. New York. Paris. London. (My own favourite city, Edinburgh, is the setting of many a wonderful story.) My publisher runs a series of novellas on the theme of “One night in…” where the focus is on a single night in a single city. That has some crackers. Salamanca. Chicago. Rome. Los Angeles. And so on.

helena fairfax, jennifer young, tirgearr press
Rainbow over Loch Ness

Then there are the more exotic places, the holiday destinations (preferably warm). These are fertile ground on which the seeds of my own ideas come up the most readily. And why not? Exotic, out of character, new experiences and different people — all combine for a recipe for romance. My first two were set in Majorca, and now I’m in the middle of a series set in Lake Garda.

Place. You hear a lot about that. A sense of place. And actually, from Wuthering Heights via Rebecca to any other work you can name, I can’t think of a good romantic novel that hasn’t evoked the place in which it’s set.

A wise writer friend once advised me that the reader should be able to place a hand upon the wall of the place they’re reading about. Since then, that’s what I’ve aspired to do. Some of my characters even do just that, a reminder to me as well as to them that the place is as crucial to the background of a novel — especially, I would argue, a romantic novel — as the characters.

You may not agree. You may insist that character over-rides all and location doesn’t matter. I would argue that the two are interconnected and you can’t have one without another. Which is why, in my book, a great romantic novel (as opposed to a great love story, of course) has to have a great setting. And it’s why I’ve never set a book in Hull.

Tirgearr Publishing

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Looking for Charlotte

helena fairfax, jennifer young

A Portrait of My Love

Thank You for the Music

No Time Like Now

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What a great post, Jennifer. I love that saying about being able to set your hand on the wall of a setting. And you’re right, One Night in Hull doesn’t quite have that romantic ring to it – although Hull is actually a really interesting place, with lots of history! Interesting why some locations are seen as so exotic, and others aren’t. Thanks very much for dropping in again!

What’s your favourite romantic setting, or your favourite setting in any novel? If you’re a writer, how important is setting to you? If you’ve enjoyed Jennifer’s post, or if you have any questions or comments at all, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you!

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9 thoughts on “The importance of setting in a romance novel, with author Jennifer Young

  1. Enjoyed your post, Jennifer, and I do like a novel set in a recognisable country or city. Lake Garda is one of the few places in Italy I still haven’t seen, though I’m working on it. Setting hasn’t always been my main consideration as a writer, apart from the Aphrodite and Adonis series set on Cyprus. Until The Highland Lass which is completely tied up with the west coast of Scotland and is partly driven by the area in the present and past!

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    1. Hi Rosemary, I loved the settings for your Greek novellas and The Highland Lass. The west coast of Scotalnd must be one of the most beautiful places in the world. Glad you enjoyed Jenifer’s pos. Thanks for dropping in!

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  2. I find place is hugely important to being able to write a fictional story. My first published short story was inspired by a house and its overgrown garden. The children and I passed it every day. There were often two dogs – one peaceable, one rather frenzied in that way that collies can be. Crying out to be immortalised. Do hope the neighbours never put two and two together, though. anne stenhouse

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    1. I find setting important, too, Anne. I love the sound of the run-down house and the dogs you passed every day. It just proves you don’t need to go far to find a great setting.(Since Jennifer’s post, I’m seriously putting my mind into how to use Hull…!) Thanks for dropping in!

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  3. I think setting is certainly part of it, and part of DEAR MISS LANDAU is a bit of a love letter to Los Angeles:

    ‘The bus went on its way to the coast, past the shining white planes at Edwards Air Force Base and the town of Mojave, baked quietly dry by the heat. We came over the San Gabriel mountains and there was Los Angeles, the hazy low-slung urban sprawl spreading down to the sea, topped with a high, close-clustered central set of skyscrapers.

    The sunlit city with its sparkling spires.

    Green and pleasant suburbs replaced dry desert and scrub as we dropped down into the San Fernando Valley. The real Candlewood Drive was close, and it was not far to go ’til Hollywood.

    All the places I’d never seen, or thought I’d never see again. The violent, dreamlike city on the edge of forever to which I’d sent DRUSILLA’S ROSES, never expecting a reply.’

    Funny thing, though, I was born in Wolverhampton and brought up in Shifnal, Shropshire. I may one day (somehow…) write something romantic about that!

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    1. I love that line “The sunlit city with its sparkling spires”!
      Helena, I suspect people find the strangest places romantic if they’re there with the right people. Maybe we should keep an eye out for romance in Rochdale!

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  4. What a beautiful description, James. And I never knew you were born in Wolverhampton! It would be great to write something romantic about that city. Another great idea would be to have a book of romantic short stories all set in unloved cities- Slough, Swindon, Sunderland, Swansea – and that’s only the “S”es! I think it could be a massive hit. Thanks very much for dropping in!

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