Friday, November 30, 2012

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: "Rooting a Story Firmly in the ‘Where’" by European Romance Novelist Hannah Fielding

Hannah Fielding, Author

European romance novelist Hannah Fielding  brings us a novel that truly “transports  you to another place," as described by one reviewer.  Her novel BURNING EMBERS is set in 1970s Kenya and incorporates the backdrop of the newly independent country. In the following article, she highlights the relevance of setting and shares some tips on how to use setting to enhance a story.

Prior to becoming a full-time author, Hannah reared two children and ran her own business renovating rundown cottages. Today she and her husband spend half their time in Kent and the rest in their home in the South of France.

Rooting a Story Firmly in the ‘Where’
By Hannah Fielding

I have always been a writer who pays keen attention to setting; to describing carefully sights and sounds and smells and tastes and textures. Since childhood I’ve loved writers who really paint a scene in your mind, and I knew when I started writing romance that I wanted to transport my readers to the time and place in which I situate the story. Place holds such power to colour a story, and I believe any story must be firmly rooted in the ‘where.'

I have written several novels now, and vivid setting is a common factor across each. From Andalucía, Spain to Venice and Tuscany, Italy to Alexandria, Egypt – these are books born of my travels; of poking around in back streets and cafes; of meeting locals and exploring landscapes – and, of course, of reading extensively on cultures.

For my debut novel, BURNING EMBERS, a passionate tale of the love between a young photographer coming to Kenya from England and an entrepreneurial plantation owner, I chose newly independent Kenya, Africa, as the setting. I had travelled to Africa as a young woman, and fallen in love with the people and the wild landscapes. I knew this would be the perfect colourful backdrop to a vivid and sultry love story with an undercurrent of danger and superstition. I chose to situate the action in 1970, because this was a pivotal time in Kenyan history, with new crashing up against old and a good deal of insecurity, and this offsets the development of the main character, Coral, from naïve girl to mature woman.

Here’s an extract from Coral’s first impression of the port of Mombasa:

Coral turned her attention to the gigantic cranes swiveling in the air. They reminded her of steel-fanged dragons on the lookout for their next victim as they lifted and lowered their strange cargoes bound for new shores. It was clear that the port was flourishing these days. Coral had kept up with the news in Kenya and knew that while the president, Jomo Kenyatta, was criticized by some for his increasingly autocratic governing of the country, Kenya was at least reaping the economic benefits of increased exports and aid from the West. A vision of a new Kenya seemed to be constructing itself in front of her eyes. And then, farther away to the right, where the marshy green belt of grassland sloped down gently toward the ocean, she saw an age-old scene. Magnificent, half-naked, ebony athletes went to and fro, some carrying on their shoulders and others on their heads, heavy loads brought in by rowing boats from larger vessels anchored off shore.

Such description is typical of my writing, and it seems to appeal to readers, for many of the reviews of the book mention the exotic setting and the sense that the book offers an escape in transporting the reader to another world and another time.

Tips on Setting

If you’re a writer looking to develop the setting of your novel, you may find the following tips helpful:
·      Think carefully about what setting best matches the themes of your story. Don’t be afraid to be different – an unusual, exotic setting is appealing to the reader.
·      If at all possible, visit the key locations in the book. Second best is to talk to others who have been there and to read extensively on the place – both books and online. Don’t forget to look up images too; a Google Image search can be very useful.
·      Write to appeal to all the readers’ senses, so they can really imagine scenes.
·      As well as broad brush strokes that convey a scene – green grass, a blue sky – look for small, interesting details. What unusual colours stand out, for example?
·      Don’t just describe the permanent aspects of a setting; also think about transitional details, such as weather and the angle of sunlight.
·      People are interested in people, so make people part of your setting descriptions.
·      Connect characters to settings. So instead of describing a place and then a person, weave the two together by considering how the person affects the place, and vice versa.
·      Go for walks often, in both urban and natural settings, and practise being mindful: aware of small details in the setting. Use walks as inspiration for writing practice, and soon you’ll find that you instinctively describe well.

More About Me

I grew up in a rambling house overlooking the Mediterranean. My half-French half-Italian governess Zula used to tell the most beautiful fairy stories. When I was seven we came to an agreement: for each story she told me, I would invent and tell her one of my own. That is how my love of writing began.
Later, at a convent school where French nuns endeavoured to teach us grammar, literature and maths, during lessons which bored me to tears I took to daydreaming and wrote short romantic stories to satisfy the needs of a fertile imagination. Having no inhibitions, I circulated them around the class, which made me very popular among my peers.

After I graduated with a BA in French literature from university, my international nomadic years started. I lived mainly in Switzerland, France and England, and holidayed in other Mediterranean countries like Italy, Greece and Spain. Once I met my husband, Nicholas, I settled in Kent and subsequently had little time for writing while bringing up two children and running my own business renovating rundown cottages.

Then, when my children few the nest, I created room in my life for writing once more. Now, my husband and I spend half our time in our Georgian rectory in Kent and the rest in our home in the South of France, where I write overlooking breathtaking views of the ocean.

My first novel, Burning Embers, has been a work in progress for many years. It is set in Africa - my homeland - and is inspired by travels to Kenya. I am currently working on books set in Spain, Italy and Egypt, which is a wonderful excuse to travel often and drink in passionate cultures and beautiful landscapes.


Coral Sinclair is a beautiful but naive twenty-five-year-old photographer who has just lost her father. She's leaving the life she's known and traveling to Kenya to take ownership of her inheritance – the plantation that was her childhood home – Mpingo. On the voyage from England, Coral meets an enigmatic stranger to whom she has a mystifying attraction. She sees him again days later on the beach near Mpingo, but Coral's childhood nanny tells her the man is not to be trusted. It is rumored that Rafe de Monfort, owner of a neighboring plantation and a nightclub, is a notorious womanizer having an affair with her stepmother, which may have contributed to her father's death. Circumstance confirms Coral's worst suspicions, but when Rafe's life is in danger she is driven to make peace. A tentative romance blossoms amidst a meddling ex-fianc, a jealous stepmother, a car accident, and the dangerous wilderness of Africa. Is Rafe just toying with a young woman's affections? Is the notorious womanizer only after Coral's inheritance? Or does Rafe's troubled past color his every move, making him more vulnerable than Coral could ever imagine? Set in 1970, this contemporary historical romance sends the seemingly doomed lovers down a destructive path wrought with greed, betrayal, revenge, passion, and love.


Twitter @FieldingHannah

1 comment:

  1. It sounds a wonderful setting. I've always been afraid to write about real places because my memory's so bad I know I'd make mistakes. But I love reading books where the location's so evocative I feel I've been there.