I have a confession to make: I've never been to London.
"So what?" you may ask. The deal is that my first novel is set in London and I once heard a literary agent say that he would never represent a novel that was set in a place that the author hadn't actually visited. Well, I made a mental note then not to work with this agent.
And it's not as if I refused to travel to England to do some research--I just couldn't afford it at the time I wrote the book. And even if I could, my novel was set in pre-Victorian London, so apart from the historical buildings still in place, the world of my novel wasn't there any more.
What were my options then? Here are some things that helped me:
- Read books and watch movies set in that time
- Read descriptions of the places and even look at recent pictures on the Internet
- Explore London maps from the 1830s and compare them with the current ones on Google maps
- Make things up
- Wish I had tried instead a contemporary novel set in my hometown
I was lucky to find one particular picture of The Strand, in front of Somerset House, of 1836 (the exact year and location of many of my scenes). Check it out:
Images like this one, film adaptations of Jane Austen's novels, Charles Dicken's vivid descriptions of the London of his day and practical guides like What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist-The Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England and Voices From Dickens' London: First-Hand Accounts of Life in the Great Metropolitan allowed me to travel in time and place to the world of my story, making it so real in my head, that my readers won't know the truth until they read this post.
Writing international fiction may be a challenge, but the things I've learned, are worth the trip.
To my fellow writers, I ask, what about you? Have you visited all your settings or are you just mind-traveling like me?
And to my fellow readers, what places would you like to visit through a novel?
Nick Daniels' second novel is set in the Middle East, so he bought a large map and a travel guide with lots of pictures. Donations are welcome for his research trip to Israel.