A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
It’s Ask the Allsorts time again! This month, we’re discussing our favourite settings from other authors’ books.
I absolutely adore the setting of Sorry-in-the-Vale in Sarah Rees Brennan’s Lynburn Legacy trilogy. It’s a fictional English village filled with awesome characters. It’s dark and eerie and quaint and warm all at once and I would absolutely want to live there – murdering sorcerers aside!
This is an easy one for me… Narnia, from C.S. Lewis’s ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. What grabbed me as a child was the shift from reality to fantasy, the step from wardrobe to snowy landscape, Mr Tumnus, Aslan and beavers who talked. The White Witch – well, I wasn’t as keen on her, but the rest of it was like a little piece of heaven.
The Burrow (home of the Weasley family in the Harry Potter books)!
I love the South described in Carson MocCullers novels, especially The Member of the Wedding. It’s so whimsical and beautiful.
There are so many settings from children’s/Young Adults book that transport me there so very clearly – and fill me with admiration – that it is very hard to choose just one. But I am going to go for the sixteenth-century borderlands setting of Susan Price’s The Sterkarm Handshake, which rightly won many accolades after it was published in 1998. It’s a most unusual time-travel novel in that there’s no magic involved. In the primary time, a ruthless corporation has invented a tunnel which enables people to go back to the times of the Border Reivers. The company wants to exploit the land and its people, but its not as easy as they expect! What I love is that Price doesn’t romanticise the setting, and its beauty is constantly set alongside the brutality of the times. The descriptions are rich in historical and sensory detail and Price goes so far as to invent a plausible language which makes the reader pay real attention to all the dialogue. I haven’t the space to quote some of her wonderful descriptive passages, but I would really urge anyone to read it.
My favourite setting from another author’s book? How am I supposed to pick just ONE? Argh. Um… OK. If I have to pick, then I’d pick the endless library from Robin McKinley’s Beauty. I mean, all the books that have ever been written or ever will be written are there within it! And if that wasn’t enough, it’s gorgeous, with huge, deep windows that have comfy window seats, and a library ladder which will wheel you to book recommendations. And all you have to do is ask the air, and you’ll magically be brought a nice mug of tea and some biscuits, maybe a scone or two. Bliss.
My favourite setting from another author’s book has to be Manderley from Rebecca.
On reading the first line ‘Last night I dreamt of Manderely again’ you know that Du Maurier has placed the setting at the centre of this story. Manderely imposes so largely that it almost becomes a character itself, haunted by memories of the first Mrs de Winter, Rebecca.
‘The drive wound away in front of me, twisting and turning as it had always done. But as I advanced, I was aware that a change had come upon it. Nature had come into her own again, and little by little had encroached upon the drive with long tenacious fingers, on and on while the poor thread that had once been our drive. And finally, there was Manderley – Manderley – secretive and silent.’
Sends shivers down my spine every time.
Give me driftwood and white sands and the sapphire sea sparkling in the sunshine at midday. Give me the lush forest and the black mountain. Give me the darkest night and the brightest fire. Give me the conch and the pig and the beast. The Lord of The Flies walks there, and if it’s good enough for him . . .
The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell have some of my all-time favourite settings. They are just pure escapism – a fantasy lover’s dream. Chris’ stunning illustrations really bring the world to life, and I could spend hours pouring over the wonderfully detailed maps in the books. I’d love to explore all of the Edge, but my favourite place has to be Sanctaphrax, the academic city. As an academic at heart, Sanctaphrax really captured my heart with its pearly white towers and lofty classrooms and shadowy old libraries whose books are stored in tall, tree-like structures you have to climb to reach. The academics there study weather – a perfect place for a Geographer like me! Plus, it’s a city built on top of a floating rock. How cool is that!
My favourite setting from another author’s book is the moving castle from Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle. It’s powered by a fire demon, Calcifer, who lives in the kitchen fireplace and eats bacon and eggs if you spill them on him by mistake, and each of its windows looks out onto a different place. If I could I would buy it as a holiday home. Imagine how much fun!
Do you like cheese? Then you should absolutely definitely read A Face Like Glass by world-builder extraordinaire Frances Hardinge. At the start of this book, we visit the fiercely guarded tunnels of Caverna where Neverfell, the hapless heroine, resides with Cheesemaster Grandible, a man of particular skill capable of creating the most dangerous – and desirable – cheeses. “Open the wrong door and you might find yourself faced with shelves of Spitting Jesses, rattling on their dove-feather beds and sending up a fine spray of acid through the pores in their rinds, or some great mossy round of Croakspeckle, the very fumes of which could melt a man’s brain like so much butter.” I’d happily break in and take my chances with an angry Hare-Stilton just to chance a taste of the legendary Stackfalter Sturton. Even if it did make me insane.
It’s hard to choose an absolute favourite, but one setting that sticks in my mind is definitely Manderley in ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier. The opening page sets the gothic tone beautifully with its surreal descriptions of vegetation gone wild. The house itself is ‘haunted’ by the memory of the first Mrs De Winter. Her presence is felt in the little office, in the portrait on the stairs and in the closed off west wing. ‘Rebecca’ is a story where the house has presence. It affects how the characters behave.
For me it would have to be the setting of Carson McCuller’s ‘The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.’ Here’s a link to a blog post I found that I feel excellently sums up the setting of the book:
Recently I’ve found it close to impossible to tear myself away from the town of Lovecraft Massachusetts in Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s ‘Locke and Key’ sequence. I’m a late-starter with graphic novels but these books – I think there are going to be seven in all – are a tremendous introduction. Gothic, brooding, violent and hugely compelling; I can’t wait to go back… there’s something very frightening waiting in those caves down by the beach!
Since it’s almost Halloween, I’m choosing Carrie Ryan’s zombie novel The Forest of Hands and Teeth. The settings are incredibly well done, and really enhance the scare-factor—an isolated village in the middle of the forest with only a mesh fence to keep out the zombies; a cathedral with a punitive, medieval air, hidden rooms and secret passageways; narrow, fenced-in pathways through the forest—it’s all incredibly claustrophobic and creepy.
Ok, so my favourite setting from another author’s book is from Sara Grant’s “Half Lives”.
It’s not the beautiful description or sweeping landscape that gets me. It’s the use of the setting to impact the characters.
Part of it is set in an underground bunker under a mountain in Utah. The way Sara uses the confinement to test the characters is fantastic. It’s stark and illolated and it keeps the characters on edge the whole time. The setting really acts as a character in itself in the book at times. And (I don’t want to give the plot away) but the location has the power to destroy them or to save them. It’s great.
No question: Roald Dahl’s Chocolate Factory. Never again would I be satiated by life on the outside once I’d experienced the Chocolate Room, the Inventing Room, the Nut Room, the Television Room….Waterfalls and rivers of melted chocolate were what my childhood dreams were made of. Augustus Gloop had the right idea; I would be in there like a shot.
Manderley, the fictional estate where the story Rebecca (by Daphne du Maurier) takes place. The house is lavish and comes with servants, woods and a beach. Max de Winter takes his new wife there to live. But the house is haunted by the memory of Max’s first wife, Rebecca. Wonderfully atmospheric and creepy.
There are so many incredible settings in different books, that it’s very hard to choose just one. I’m picking the world of Pern in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight, because as a child I spent so many hours escaping reality to ride the dragons of Pern, defending the land from the deadly menace falling from the skies.
My favourite setting in another author’s book?
The TARDIS – a realm of infinite possibility, bound up in a battered blue box. First appears in ‘Doctor Who and the Daleks’ by David Whitaker, in the aftermath of a car crash on a foggy autumn night on Barnes Common. The adventure starts here – and is still going fifty years later…
Narrowing this down was hard, so I tried to think of the books that had really affected me, and that therefore had created for me an atmosphere and a setting that would stay with me for years to come. ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote, a huge favourite of mine, bubbled to the surface. Capote starts by painting a simple bleakness that immediately arrested me: ‘The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there’.
He proceeds to tell the reader a dark and clinical account of the murder of the Clutter family – marrying the mundanity of the family and village activities with the stark reality of the killings that are to affect a community. The detailed depiction of this isolated village in which ‘drama had never stopped there’ and the way he conveys everyday speech patterns makes the setting so vivid. It is a retelling of a real news story, and Capote fills in the gaps with his masterful storytelling. A brilliant book!
It has to be the Wyoming of Mary O’Hara’s classic ‘My Friend Flicka’, a book I’ve loved since I was a child. Her descriptions of the grasslands and mountains that surround the McLaughlins’ ranch are breathtaking. She perfectly captures the mood of that wild, vast landscape, so that it becomes a character in its own right. There aren’t many books that I re-read regularly, but this is one of them. I never get tired of it!
How about you? What’s your favourite book setting?
Emma Pass has been making up stories for as long as she can remember. Her debut novel, ACID, is out now, and will be followed by another stand-alone thriller for young adults, THE FEARLESS, on 3rd April 2014. By day, she works as a library assistant and lives with her husband and crazy greyhound G-Dog in the North East Midlands.