Regionalism and the Author

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Paul Whybrow

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Jun 20, 2015
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Cornwall, UK
My crime novels are set in the county of Cornwall, where I've lived since 1990. As part of my marketing strategy ( o_O) I've labelled them the Cornish Detective Series. I trade strongly on the beautiful, but dangerous landscape of the county, as well as its legendary status, which includes King Arthur's presence at Tintagel and the Beast of Bodmin Moor.

There's a strong tradition of writers basing their stories in Cornwall, such as Daphne Du Maurier, Winston Graham, Arthur Quiller-Couch, Rosamunde Pilcher, W.J. Burley and Patrick Gale. All of these authors know the area from living here, which is more than can be said of several recently published crime novels that I've read, which were set here for no other reason than to attract readers.

An article in today's Guardian offered me hope that I might be doing the right thing:

Rugged coastline and hunky blokes: is Cornwall the UK's new literary capital?

Do any of you base your stories in a region with a strong identity, be it a city or a rural area—real or imaginary?

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I've grown very fond of setting books in NZ. It's clearly not helped my sales, but the Kiwi kids who read them love the fact they're set in their home--so few books are. They love seeing Kiwi kids doing awesome things in places they know and love. :) And with Peter Jackson and Weta Workshop just round the corner, when I sell the movie rights for billions of dollars, it'll be convenient the books are set here. ;)
 
'Regionalism' can be a disparaging way of indicating fiction is rural and set in a backwater. Place though is so crucial to good fiction and I love novels that let me see familiar places anew. Cornwall sounds tremendous. I've spent long periods of time in the Welsh Marches and am always drawn to fiction about that area. And I love the approach known as psychogeography.

It's trickier writing for an international market about regions or countries that aren't well-known as tourist destinations because they are so unfamiliar or 'exotic' that they sometimes dwarf the characters. I once began a short story set in Laos/Cambodia and found that readers who knew this part of Asia for 'off-the-beaten-track' travels had no idea what it was like to work there or live there, how unromantic and inconvenient that might be and what local people were like when you moved away from expat perspectives.
 
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