Saturday, October 04, 2008

Fictional Reality?

In 2007 I spent two weeks on a research trip France, including a visit to the Vezelay region of Burgundy for The Disgraceful Mr Ravenhurst (number four in my Those Scandalous Ravenhursts series).
I had enormous fun walking in the lovely valleys around Vezelay, visiting villages and chateaux and, of course, the stunning basilica (right) which is the backdrop of the opening scene of Disgraceful.

I came home and wrote Disgraceful (out next year), using as far as possible genuine villages and walks as my settings, although the chateau and its shocking secrets had to be an amalgam of places.

Then this September I returned to Vezelay for a few days and was startled to discover how real my inventions seemed to have become for me and how vividly I could see my characters in these real locations.

"Look," I kept saying - "There's the dressmaker’s shop where Theo had lodgings (left), that was where Elinor and Lady James were staying in Vezelay (below), just there was where Elinor and Theo stopped on their walk along the river and fell asleep and just here is where Elinor literally bumped into Theo in the basilica under that carving of the temptation of a saint."

My husband, who had patiently followed me with the camera last year, found himself being towed around all the same places while I exclaimed and pointed out location after location. Finally, goaded beyond endurance when I stopped in what is now a car park, and which used to be a little quarry, and showed him the exact bank where Theo and Elinor kissed (now romantically adorned by a litter bin and a notice on a pole) he pointed out that it is only fiction. They hadn’t really kissed just there, Theo’s mistress hadn’t really ridden into the village of St Père at just the wrong moment and stopped opposite what is now the butcher’s shop – it was all in my head.

I was shocked. Of course these things had happened! It was a very strange experience, and one I had never had before, to go back to a real location and to find that I had given it a whole new history – in my head at least – by imagining it.

And to prove I was there, here I am, writing up
my notes outside the excellent
Hotel Les Deux Ponts
at Pierre-Perthuis just outside Vezelay.

Louise Allen


Jan Jones said...

Pah! Of course these things happened! Men, eh?

kate tremayne said...

Of course you have created a new reality which is not only real for you but all your thousands of readers. Who said writers were not omnipotent. Though they probaly burnt us at the stake centuries ago for having voices in our head.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful, Louise! This fictional "reality" is what makes writing so fabulous and just a little bit spooky. But looking at that picture of you I really sympathise with you, having to work in such conditions: warm sunshine, exotic locations - so tough!


Jane Odiwe said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who does that-my family thinks I'm completely barking when I point out where my characters live etc. But they are such a part of your imagination and take on a life which becomes real, don't they? Your locations are gorgeous-I shall look forward to finding out about the 'real' lives and adventures of your characters!