On the book tour for Susan Stairs’ new book caleld ‘One Good Reason’, Susan talks about deciding locations for her novels.
Make your setting a character. We’ve heard that said time and again. Where the action takes place is as important as every other element in your novel. My first novel ‘The Story of Before’ is set in a housing estate just outside Dublin in the 1970s and is told from the point of view of eleven-year-old Ruth Lamb. Because Ruth is a child and the story is hers alone to tell, the setting needed to be a place she was able to navigate easily, a place where she had free reign, somewhere she could easily interact with all the other characters. Hillcourt Rise is that place. An estate of over one hundred houses set around a green space, it is Ruth’s world. It is a world she feels part of – but only to a degree. She is an observer, an outsider who feels she has more in common with her neighbour – widow Bridie Goggin – than with the other children who live there. Almost all the action takes place within the confines of Hillcourt Rise as I wanted the novel to have a tense, claustrophobic, insular feel.
My second novel ‘The Boy Between’ is split between two settings and perspectives: 14 year-old Tim in 1980s rural Ireland; and 27 year old Laura in Dublin in 2011. Aside from deciding that this was the best way to tell the story, I also wanted very much to juxtapose the two different Irelands, so to speak, and show how much things changed in the years between them. Central to the plot is the contrast between how we communicate now and how we did back in the 1980s. The criss-crossing back and forth from the past to the present allows the reader to empathise with both Tim and Orla and understand how their stories interlink and collide.
‘For One Good Reason’, I wanted a more exotic location, but one that would also have a link to Ireland. For the plot to work, Laura, the protagonist – a girl from Dublin – needs to become someone she’s not and that is a lot more difficult to achieve on home turf. So I set the major part of the novel in the South of France, in a villa owned by her godfather in the hills above Nice. I’ve visited Nice many times and felt I was familiar enough with the area to describe it accurately and allow it to feed into the action convincingly.
For my next novel, I’m back in Ireland with the action set between a girls’ secondary school in the 1970s and, mainly, an old house that’s for sale in contemporary Dublin. I’m captivated by the past and by the ways that memory and mystery can work both with and against each other and how we can convince ourselves things happened as we remember them. But did they really?
You can buy One Good Reason from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.