On the long drive back from Scarborough (everywhere seems MILES away when you’re a kid), we used to pass this house. It was a perfectly innocent house but in my head it was where Jill, from the books from Ruby Ferguson, lived.
For some reason this innocent house in my home county, on the way back from the supermarket, became incomparably linked with the Jill stories. It was Pool Cottage in Chatton. It was where Black Boy and Rapide lived. And it was where Jill’s mother wrote her stories. It just was these books. I don’t even know what originally started this idea but it’s something that’s stuck with me for nearly twenty years. Seriously. I thought about doing this post and then I thought about that house and within minutes I had found it on Google Maps.
But that’s the power of location in books. Sometimes, when you really love a book, you can’t help but map it onto your local surroundings to make sure that feeling never leaves you. And that’s exactly what I used to do. This house, for example, is the house at Green Knowe. It bears very little relation to the actual house but it had a garden that just sang of magic to me.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit places that some of my favourite series were actually set. The early part of the Chalet School series is set, indelibly, in the Austrian Tyrol and in particular at the Achensee near Innsbruck. What’s particularly vivid about this memory is my gran and I accidentally mountaineering (“What’s this? A short cut?”) in the middle of the day and then practically breathing in the biggest serving of Weinerschnitzel I had ever seen. And then there was the moment where I paddled in the Achensee and almost collapsed from over nerdiness.
Locations make books. Who can think of Hogwarts without it being, well, Hogwarts? I know for me that my image of Hogwarts was solidified and made something incredible after watching Harry Potter and the Prisoner Of Azkaban. Alfonso Cuarón took what had felt a relatively flat location in the first film and gave it shade. He made it something superb; translating his concept of Hogwarts to the screen. But he’d have had nothing to build with were it not for the gorgeous amount of detail delivered in the book. I’m not a Harry Potter fan, not really, but I can’t deny the superbnosity (thankyou Georgia Nicolson) of Hogwarts.
Locations pay off books. I’m rereading Sarra Manning’s Fashionista books (as a massive massive treat to myself), and Manning knows her London. I’m a yokel, country bumpkin through and through, but even I’m thrilling at the tightness of the model flat and the descriptions of the underground. Manning knows and loves her London very much.
So maybe that’s it? Maybe books with vivid and long-lasting locations, real or reader-impinged, rise from love? Maybe that’s the way to make it – and keep it – real. Maybe you just need to fall in love with your location, real or imaginary, and have to share it with others. Maybe that’s the superpower behind books – that want, that need to share this story and all its colours, shades, lights and darks with somebody else. Maybe that’s how it works.
(Images : Google)