Jul272020

Fictional Travel – Favorite Books With a Strong Sense of Place

I’m a pretty chronic traveller, Gentle Reader. My parents put me on a plane by myself to the UK when I was 10. I pretty much never stopped moving after that. I’ve lived and worked overseas, as a student and as an archaeologist. Since I became a full time author I’ve travelled more, not less.

I also really love reading books with a strong sense of place. And by that I mean my kinds of books comedy, heroine’s journeys, romances, and urban fantasy. (As a reminder here is a list of the tropes I gravitate towards and read for in fiction.)

Piper J Drake and I did a podcast on this topic for 20 Minute Delay so you can listen to our picks there as well, if you want: Ep 35 Books That Call Us To Places (iTunes). We go into the writer perspective on travel in great depth, how we use out travels to write settings in our books. Watch us on YouTube to see how much we hand wiggle and get excited!

Anyway as a companion piece, I thought I would concoct a list for you of some of my favorite books that make me want to go somewhere, a few of which I talk about on the above episode. I’ve alphabetized by country/setting.

Places to Visit With Fiction

EGYPT

Specifically the Nile and the archaeology sites along it.

Lord of Two Lands by Judith Tarr

Sailboat on the Nile, Cairo, Egypt, ca. 1895

This is a bit of a cheat as it’s Egypt during the time of Alexander the Great but I still think it provides and extremely strong feel of Egypt, especially the desert and Nile delta. Although never having been, I can’t say for certain.

My stories that visit Egypt?

Curious Case (Luxor 1840s), Timeless (Alexandria 1870s), and Imprudence (Alexandria, Cairo, Nile down through Sudan 1890s).

ENGLAND

Specifically the Yorkshire Dales.

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

(Plus the long running TV series by the same name.)

This could be a huge category, since I grew up with British children’s book read to me by my English mother. The moors and the dales and the rolling countryside play huge roles in books like the Wind in the Willows, The Secret Garden, and so forth.

I wrote and set the Finishing School series in Devon because that’s were I spent my childhood. Defy or Defend takes place in Nottingham because I went to university there.

So why did I pick the Dales for England?

Well, James Herriot, of course. I grew up listening to All Creatures Great and Small on tape, reading his children’s picture books about animals, and watching the All Creatures Great and Small TV show.

This pick is a bit of a cheat, as these are technically non-fiction memoirs about being a vet in Yorkshire, but these stories are funny, sweet, touching and uplifting offerings full of quirky characters and their humans. I think, non-fiction or not, my readers will love these books.

Another movie suggestion?

Because it gives a great idea of the differences in setting in England during the Industrial Revolution is North & South.

All Parasol Protectorate Books Germany Soulless Changeless Blameless Heartless Timeless Teacup Octopus Nook Bedding

My stories that visit England?

Many of my Parasolverse books are set in and around England. Soulless and Heartless (19870s London), Romancing the Werewolf (I recommend Maurice as a companion movie) and How to Marry a Werwolf (1890s London, I recommended the TV series The Buccaneers), all of the Finishing School series (in and around southern England 1850s), Poison or Protect (countryside near Oxford), Romancing the Inventor (countryside near London, I recommend Tipping the Velvet if you liked this book), and parts of the Custard Protocol series.

GREECE

Specifically Corfu.

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

(Also the movie adaptations plus The Durrell’s in Cofu TV series)

Corfu has been on my long list of places to visit but I’ve never managed to get there. I have been to Greece but not Corfu. My love affair with this place started as a child when I first read Durrell’s work, or more properly listened to them on tape from the library.

This pick is another cheat (like James Herriot), as these are technically non-fiction memoirs about being a British ex-pat growing up in Corfu prior to WWII. But Jerry and his eccentric family and how they cope with his pathological need to keep and understand animals (he would eventually become a zoo keeper and famous animal conservationist) are truly hilarious. Non-fiction or not, my readers will love these books, and will see the ways that they have influenced and inspired my own writing.

My books that visit Greece?

None sadly. Although I have visited.

SINGAPORE

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

(Plus the movie adaptation.)

Both the book and the movie give an intense feeling of visiting Singapore.

I truly utterly adore Singapore and it is one of the places on earth I consider a heart home, that is a place I could see myself actually living in as a resident.

This is a big statement for me as it is both hot (located almost exactly on the Equator) and a bustling larger city (I am, by nature and inclination a small town girl).

What Crazy Rich Asians doesn’t really cover is the food scene and hawker centers in Singapore, which were, of course, my favorite part.

My book that visits Singapore?

Competence. I promised a government official (also a fan) that I would have my characters visit them, and spent half my trip exciting researching what Singapore was like in the 1890s.

WALES

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

I have never been to Wales but when I read The Dark is Rising sequence of books I vowed some day to get there. What Cooper manages to do with her work is reflect the lyrical nature of the Welsh language and the rolling green softness of its topography in her writing style and in the serene yet tense nature of her prose.

I can’t say enough good things about The Dark is Rising series and it a CRIME that these books are more popular in the United States. Do yourself or your child a sold and check these out.

Also the audiobook (back in my day) was so good because you got to hear how all those welsh words are pronounced. I had read them as books first so when I listened to the tapes it blew my MIND.

My books that visit Wales?

None yet. Maybe after I visit?

Check out the podcast episode that inspired this blog post on 20 Minute Delay.

20 Minute Delay Podcast Free Download

Also find me talking about writing and researching setting on Dan’s Podcast, The Everyday Novelist Question 828: Faking Your Setting.

Here’s an FAQ all about world building.

And here’s a blog post with tips for researching Victorian set steampunk.

26 Tips for Researching Victorian Set Story, Steampunk & Beyond (Important for Writers)

Yours (can’t wait to travel again),

Miss Gail

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Posted by Gail Carriger

One Response

  1. Cindy Bamford said:

    A book with a strong sense of place (and one of my favorites in any case) is War for the Oaks, by Emma Bull. It’s urban fantasy, set in various sites in Minneapolis and St. Paul. A special treat for anyone who has lived there.

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