Sunday, November 1, 2009


I've been thinking a lot this week about the setting of my WIP. There are several settings, including First World War zones, plus half the story is set in Blitz London. But at the heart of the story is my main character Bill's hometown of Stonehaven, and the family farm of Edenvale.

Another commonly asked question from the Forum is whether it's possible to use a real location in your story, but make wholesale changes to it. That's exactly what I've done with my story. I've amalgamated several places I know and love and created a fictional town. This means I can keep the essence of the real place, but I can mess around with what's in it and I won't offend anyone.

The setting of my story is where my day job (archaeology) and my writing come together. I know Bill's homeland inside out and back to front not because I live there, but because I've spent a number of years conducting archaeological surveys in the area. I don't just know the hills, valleys and roads- I know the heartbeat of the country. I've held objects the original Aboriginal locals were using to hunt 7000 years ago. I feel like I hold the history of the place in my two hands at times- it all comes together in my head, from prehistory through to the arrival of settlers through to the impact of war and beyond.

From the first time I went there, it spoke to me in a very special way. I understood it; I recognised it, even though I'd never been before. This is the area I'm talking about- Western Australia's midwest region. Three Springs is roughly the centre of the area I've used to create Bill's world, but for reference it is NOT Stonehaven (click the "View My Saved Places on a larger map" link below the map to zoom out and see where this little square fits into the rest of Australia).

View My Saved Places in a larger map

Of course, a map doesn't capture the personality of a place, and to be honest neither does a single photo. But here are a few of the ones I've taken over the years, in locations up to a few hundred kilometres apart in reality, but in fiction pretty close together.

First up- this is my desktop picture. This, to me, is Edenvale, Bill's family farm- on a high hill, sloping down to the ocean (it's off to the left of this photo, about 300km to the west). Wheatfields mixed with bush country.

Next: A view of the neighbourhood mid-winter, when the rains have filled the multitude of small lakes and made everything bloom vibrant and green.

A little bit of rain means a whole lot of trouble these days- imagine what it was like trying to get through this in a horse and cart! I haven't factored this into my story anywhere, but it's too good to avoid. I need to rethink Bill and Kit's first... er, close encounter, so perhaps a cart bogged in the mud would provide a good excuse for them to huddle up for warmth...

In springtime, this area is known as the wildflower region. The flowers are absolutely stunning and stretch for miles and miles on end in uncleared bushland.

Edenvale Farm has a few distinctive features, like the ghost gums that lining driveway that winds up the hill to the house. Here are a couple of shots of the ghost gums, which have an almost skin-like bark and a majestic strength. They get much bigger than this.

Here's what the homestead at Edenvale might have looked like a hundred years ago (this is actually Ninghan Station on the Great Northern Highway).

And here's what would probably be left of it these days.

The number of these scattered across the landscape of the area is a living history of determination, struggle, and sometimes failure. It's not easy to succeed at life on the land in this area- one of the towns (Perenjori) is the fastest *shrinking* shire in the country due to the ongoing drought driving people off their farms. It's heartbreaking- and it's not the first time it's happened. The 1920s saw a major drought in this area, too, right at the time Bill would have been struggling to keep the farm running, and right before the Great Depression hammered people even more.

It's probably no surprise that by far the most artefacts I've ever found in this region have been large glass beer bottles dating to between 1920 and 1940.

All in all, the landscape retains echoes of the past- both physically, and in spirit. Being out there and reaching out to touch the past and the present has inspired me hugely in this writing journey. I haven't been out there for a couple of years, but by now the fictional place has taken on a life of its own in my mind. The place itself is the at the heart of the story.

I've been looking back through my photos today to reacquaint myself- for the first time in a year, I feel really ready to tackle this story and revive it. I think it has something to do with blogging with these fine ladies- I'm feeling well and truly inspired.


  1. Thanks for sharing the photos Claire! I quite liked having maps of Ephesus to go by, though I fudged some dates - like the library Austin visits on his second day, which actually wasn't built until 200 years after :-)
    Come to think of it, every story I've written has started off with a definite place, and a scene or image - of the place, an event, or between characters - that evokes an idea. But it wasn't until I happened across a random photo of Austin in a magazine that I realised there might be actual counterparts to my characters as well. It was such an exciting feeling that now I'm afraid of forcing it, since I find myself looking at all sorts of random photos in newspapers, etc. wondering, is that Rose? Could that be Santiago?
    Kedi, of course, looks exactly like my older cat :-)
    Here's Austin:

  2. Awesome pics, Claire! So cool to learn more about the story behind the story. I have to say, I can't blame you one bit -- these pics are stunning and the area is just made for your kind of story. FINISH IT. :)

  3. Gorgeous pictures, Claire. Having snaps like that is so inspiring when you sit down to write. I have a collection of nineteenth century photos of Paris - of both the elegant boulevards and the slums - and they never fail to get the creative juices flowing.

    And what Jen said - please, please, finish this book! (g)

  4. Inspiring images, Claire. I can see how they would help. My workspace walls are plastered with a collection of historic photos, paintings and line drawings (mostly courtesy of the digital images available in our National Library) of early Wellington. Makes it much easier for me to position my characters in time and space.