Heartened this morning by a couple of very nice customer reviews for By The Sea, as well as by some sunshine, I went to the beach with the Canes Croxorum. On the way I took some photos of places that feature, if slightly modified, in the novel.
This view is taken by the cliffs, looking east, just to the east of Cromer. The cliffs are on the left of the picture, out of shot.
To the right is the Cromer lighthouse, which is the model for the Deringland light in By The Sea. The gorse-covered bluff on the left is the site of the Institute wherein much of the action takes place.
These are the stairs down which Alex Beach and her lab tech Valentina race, at night and in the rain, when a body is sighted on the beach directly below the Institute. If they’d made the journey on a sunny day, they’d have seen this view on the way down.
As a location in literature, Cromer is hardly up there with London, say, or New York. According to Wikipedia, it is mentioned by Jane Austen in Emma, and Elizabeth Gaskell in North and South. Neither of which compare with its use as the setting for that masterpiece of cinematographic art, The Darwin Lost Weekend - a film featuring some familiar faces, and which stars Professor Trellis of North Wales as Darwin himself.
Kazuo Ishiguro had some of his characters visit Cromer in Never Let Me Go. What’s irritating about that last location is that it’s impossible to map Ishiguro’s Cromer onto the real Cromer. This strikes me as a bit of a cop-out. Although my Cromer is a kind of alternative-reality Cromer, with a different name, the details distorted and refracted, the bare bones of the town are there.
I admit to a fondness for literature that’s set firmly in a real place. I like the Oxford of Inspector Morse and the Chicago of V. I. Warshawski. The Berlin in Robert Harris’ Fatherland is an alt.history Berlin, to be sure, but you have the sense that the author really knew the city, really got the sense of it. The Amsterdam in our own Jennifer Rohn’s The Honest Look was drawn from life. One of the ground rules for authorship is ‘write what you know’.
Even if you are writing about an alien planet, it helps if you can ground at least some of it in real locations, even if they are mixed up – a street corner here, a building there. The Institute in By The Sea started as a real building. It’s in Cromer, but in a different place – and just across the road from the block of flats where D. I. Perspehone Sheepwool lives, which in the book is the other side of town entirely.
Some of my SF epic The Sigil is set in alien locations, and places on Earth I’ve never been, but many of the most important locations are based on real places. The farmhouse where much of the domestic action happens is a real place, as is the village in which it is set. Some of the locations are quite unashamedly real: Aurignac really does have a museum just as described, and I have really dined at Le Cerf Blanc. Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Masada, Cambridge, London, Nice – all are drawn from my own experience, though I have never visited Haifa, Mt Carmel, the Vatican or the Tibesti Mountains, nor walked in the Rockies above the snowline.
Back to reality. When me and the dogs were on the beach earlier today we met this fisherman -