The importance of setting . . . or not

Over the summer, I made a tentative start on my next book and found myself in rather an unnerving position with regard to the setting.

The simple fact is – I don’t really have one. Not an actual one, anyway.

Why unnerving? Well, so far, my books have had very definite settings. In reviews for both my published romances, I’ve been pleased that my writing was complimented for the way the reader is drawn into the place as well as the story.


Yorkshire Winter

WarmHeartsinWinter_HelenPollard_ CoverWarm Hearts in Winter is set amidst the beautifully bleak winter landscape of the Yorkshire moors near Haworth, inspired by childhood family visits around Christmastime.  I always associated Haworth and its surrounding countryside with that season, so when I wanted to write a winter  romance where the hero and heroine are snowed in at a cosy retreat with a log fire to curl up in front of after their brisk walks in the snow, where better? (It’s a common enough fantasy, being snuggled up with a handsome hunk while the wind howls outside, isn’t it? Or is that just me . . . ?!) 


Valenca #1 jpeg crop

HoldingBack - coverIn contrast, Holding Back  was a summer romance. I wanted to head further afield and set the story somewhere slightly unusual, so memories of a couple of holidays in northern Portugal provided the backdrop for this story. I like to give readers a real feel of the place where my books are set, and with the aid of a few old photos and some notes I made at the time (and a little internet research to update my facts), I enjoyed being transported back there as I wrote.

vines #2

The book I’ve just finished rewriting and hope to soon find a home for is set mainly at a guest house in the Loire region of France. The idea for the opening scene popped into my brain a long time ago, but that was where it stayed until I stumbled across the perfect location for it a few years ago and could finally let the idea take off. Once I could picture where that first scene happened, everything else just slotted into place and the book was off and running all by itself.

Which brings me back to my new project . . .

I have the characters  clear in my head. I have the general storyline mapped out (I don’t do detailed planning – I’m what my American friends like to call a bit of a pantser). I can picture the fictitious building where the story is set in my imagination. What I don’t have is an actual location for that building. All I know is that it needs to be out in the middle of the countryside somewhere. As I said – a bit unnerving for me, to start a book without knowing where it’s supposed to be set. But then I realised that for this particular book, it doesn’t actually matter. It could be anywhere and not affect the characters or the story I have in mind.

Hmmm . . .

Hubby and I spent a lovely week in Pembrokeshire this August, and there was some fantastic countryside there . . .  Pembrokeshire coast

Have you read any books recently where you particularly enjoyed the setting and the author’s portrayal of it? I’d love to hear about it . . .


6 thoughts on “The importance of setting . . . or not

  1. wccunningham says:

    I recently read a James Rollins book that used a number of settings, like most of his do, but one in particular described settings so vivid within Israel that I put it on a wish list of places to visit.

  2. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I read The Protector by Diane Burton. It’s a science fiction romance set on an imaginary distant planet, and the author did a wonderful job of making me believe such a place exists. Though inhabited by alien as well as human characters, they coexisted in a place I could easily visualize, yet the descriptions didn’t detract from the story line.

    • Helen Pollard says:

      That’s interesting, Patricia – I think that must be so hard, to create a whole new world and make it believable. A far cry from having a real place in mind and just ‘tweaking’ it to suit!

  3. rosgemmell says:

    Very interesting, Helen, as I often don’t have an exact setting in mind, apart from a couple of my books. But after setting The Highland Lass very much in my own area and around the west coast of Scotland, I can’t believe the difference it made to the book and to readers’ enjoyment of it! I’m a panster too but this latest novel has definitely made me more aware of my setting from now on. Good luck with yours!

    • Helen Pollard says:

      Thank you, Rosemary. I think I’m just a bit unnerved not having the setting firmly in my mind first, since it was very much in the forefront with my other books 🙂 I think it is lovely when an author has enough knowledge of an area to add richness to their work for their reader to enjoy.

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