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Awarded December 2013 for MAKE DO AND MEND by Adam Fitzroy

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Location, Location, Location

Research for a new book can take a lot of forms and involve a lot of time. In the case of MAKE DO AND MEND the ideas for the plot and characters have been coalescing slowly for something like two or three years, but it was only last year that I started to do anything serious about the settings - or, as I like to think of them, the locations.

MAKE DO AND MEND is essentially a two-centred book. Most of the action takes place in a small Welsh valley, whose inhabitants we come to know in some detail. Finding the valley itself actually wasn't difficult, although of course it's heavily fictionalised in the book. However I needed a model to work from, and it had to have certain characteristics - to be more or less accessible by rail, for example, but completely rural, and to have some ancient buildings and some roads that led absolutely nowhere. I found such a valley simply by poring over maps and road atlases, and I found a house in the valley that was on exactly the site I wanted for Hendra, the family home of the main characters. Google Earth showed me a picture of the house, and when it turned out that the present owners ran it as a B&B and had their own website it was easy to work out that this was precisely the place I wanted, even though the house itself was not the right one. This farmhouse (see below) is on the site of the fictional Hendra.

Another important location is the pub in Liverpool where our hero, Harry, is lodging in the latter part of the story. On a location scouting trip to Liverpool in company with Morgan Cheshire I discovered this pub, the 'Pig and Whistle' in Chapel Street, which was in the perfect location and looked almost exactly right:
small Pub

However, when I came to write about it, I realised that it had merged in my mind with this former pub a couple of hundred miles to the south of it:
ovolo mansard

These things happen with fiction, I suppose; recollections of places blend together to create something new which has never existed in any form of objective reality but is nonetheless perfectly clear and vivid in the writer's imagination.

I always do far more research for a book than I ever need - the file for MAKE DO AND MEND, for example, includes pages and pages of information about 'mother of vinegar', the Dornier Do 17, Rupert Lonsdale, Jack o'Kent, and all the words to 'The Skillet Pot' and 'The Last Time I Saw Paris', none of which will feature in the story; I feel that too much research is better than too little! However I do totally approve of the old military saying that 'time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted', and if there is a chance of 'walking the ground' of the places where a book is set then that's precisely what I would always want to do.

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