A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Like most writers, I have a day job (or three) and one of them is teaching creative writing.
I like to start any new writers’ workshops with an exercise to create a strong setting, rather than starting (as most courses do) with the old chestnut about characters and what’s in their pockets. The settings exercise is a great way of packing a whole host of good writing lessons into one.
I first started doing this when (with my other writing hat on) I realised how important location is to many crime novels. But when I started to think further, it’s clear that most memorable children’s characters are inseparable from their setting: from Winnie the Pooh in the 100-Acre Wood to Harry Potter at Hogwarts to Anne of Green Gables to The Hunger Games’ Katniss in Panem. The setting works with (and against!) them to develop the characters.
Like all the best locations, some of these places almost become extra characters in the stories – think about the dry wasteland at the inaptly-named Camp Green Lake in Louis Sachar’s Holes, with its barrenness, its unforgiving heat and its lethal lizards and rattlesnakes.
When you are writing a historical novel, the creation of the setting takes on an added dimension. Not only does it have to be vivid and have a strong sense of place, but the author also has the responsibility of getting the details as accurate as possible, even though a full and true depiction of the past is not entirely achievable because of the limitations on our knowledge.
In fact, the inspiration for my children’s novel The Serpent House (Curious Fox, 2014) began with location: my home village of Spittal near Berwick upon Tweed, named for the former leper hospital sited here in the early medieval period. (This image is an artist’s impression of how the old hospital would have looked).
Not a trace of it is there any more, of course, so I had to work using this and any other images and research I could find of medieval leper houses and try to recreate it as authentically as I could.
Like any good time-travel fiction The Serpent House has two locations – one in the primary time (the year 1899) and one in the secondary time (the eleventh century). My character Annie starts her adventure in the creepy Hexer Hall, which is covered in snake motifs and symbols. Again this was inspired from a location so close to home that it actually is my home – a Victorian house with stonework covered in a fish scales pattern, to reflect the thriving fishing industry in the locality when it was built.
There was something deeper in the act of setting a story in my local area, too, which I find rather hard to articulate – but it had to do with claiming the place as my own. I know what I mean here, but it’s very hard to express – if any other authors feel a sense of ‘claiming’ a location as they write, I would love to hear from you!
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Bea Davenport is the writing name of former journalist Barbara Henderson. Bea worked in newspapers and broadcasting for a long time, including seventeen years at BBC North in Newcastle, where she worked on TV, radio and online.
She left journalism to study for a Creative Writing PhD at Newcastle University. The children’s novel written as part of that, The Serpent House, was published by Curious Fox in June 2014. It is a historical time-fantasy inspired by the medieval leper hospital once sited in the village where Bea now lives. Before being commissioned by Curious Fox, it was shortlisted for the 2010 Times/Chicken House Award.
The Serpent House was Bea’s first novel for children, although she has two adult crime/suspense novels published by Legend Press.
In 2014, Bea worked with Fiction Express on an interactive e-book where school pupils read a chapter each week and chose what should happen next. Bea then wrote the next chapter in time for the following Friday! The paperback version of the book, My Cousin Faustina, will be published by ReadZone in March 2015.
She lives in Berwick-upon Tweed on the Northumberland-Scottish border with her partner, children and a naughty cat.