Skip to content



There has long been a tradition in literature of combining the real with the imagined. In fact, as anyone who dabbles in creative writing will tell you, it is quite impossible not to do so. Only if you are creating an entirely new universe where you wish to challenge perceived ideas about everyday life might you avoid having to blend truth and fiction.

There is a definite precedence for this within the Sci Fi genre. Even then, authors will find that they still have to use some elements of the familiar, otherwise their readers will not be able to empathise with these newly imagined worlds.
When writing my first novel, ‘Aoife’s Chariot’, I decided to create a fictional Scottish Island called Garansay which would exist alongside real places. The island is based on the Isle of Arran, where my father grew up. There are certain mountain ranges and features that I have added to my island which are entirely ‘made-up’.

I am not the first person to do this, of course. In fact, when you think about it, there are plenty of locations which exist only in the literary universe: Kingsmarkham, for instance, or St Mary Mead. Even 221 Baker Street in London; where the nearest residents still receive bags full of letters every day addressed to the erstwhile Sherlock Holmes.

Why do writers choose to base their stories in these imaginary places? Why not use real cities, towns and villages in their novels? Well, some authors certainly do. Ian Rankin has made a unique selling point of his use of Edinburgh in the Rebus series. Just as Denise Mina has used Glasgow as the backdrop to hers; the list is endless. I can only speak for myself in explaining why I chose to make the foci of my first novels fictional. For me, it offered greater scope for plot development. I was able to form a landscape that fitted perfectly with my storyline rather than having to adjust my tale to fit into a real place. Readers get, quite rightly, rather upset if you mess around with the towns and cities that they know and love, so why not avoid the controversy by making up your own?
Another driving force for me was that I had spent over a decade as a History teacher- having to get every date and detail correct. I found it absolutely liberating to write books where I could make it all up! Although, I cannot resist adding historical context to my books and I certainly need this to be completely accurate- my background would demand no less!
The addition of historical elements is another area where my books ‘blend’ or ‘mix’ together the real and the imagined. If done well, it can make the factual elements of any novel come alive for the reader. I remember a wonderful History teacher of mine recommending Ellis Peters’ ‘Cadfael’ books to her students, as they painted a very clear and historically detailed picture of medieval England. It was a great recommendation and I have loved those books ever since.
Whatever genre of fiction you write in, you will find yourself having to integrate real life events and places into your narrative and, as long as it is credible to your reader, allow your imagination to run free!

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ah, really interesting post! Part of my novel takes place in the East End of London where I have real places but a made up Victorian apartment block. The other part of the novel takes place in Northumberland, in a small town, based loosly on a couple of small towns I knew well there, but like you I am making up a ‘new’ town. Although not a history teacher, I really love history and hope to use the knowledge I have of Northumbrian history to help inform some relevant aspects of the plot (there is an ancestral home central to the plot) but also to help me come up with a realistic name for the place. Research and backstory are as interesting to me as actually writing but I must remember to not get too tied up in all of that or the rest never gets written!

    PS I LOVE the Cadfael books.


    October 30, 2013
  2. Your book sounds really interesting- do let me know the title when you’ve finished it. Funny you should mention about choosing an appropriate name for places, I have found I’ve had to be careful not to use place/business names that already exist, my dad has helped me a lot with this- it does mean that your choices start to become limited. There is also the issue of dialect when you are doing speech- Northumberland has a unique dialogue as does Glasgow, where large parts of my books are set. I think you’ve given me an idea for the topic of a new post there!!


    October 31, 2013
    • It does help to have a local (or at least someone very familiar with a place) to advise! Although I lived for a while in Northumberland and I visit frequently getting the dialogue right is what I am most concerned about. I’m a details person so this is important to me. My main Northumbrian characters have lived outside of the county for vast periods so their dialogue won’t be quite so Geordie, but still, when I get to that point I will really be concentrating on different ways to get that right. Looking forward to that post of yours!


      October 31, 2013
  3. Reblogged this on The RetroReview.


    April 16, 2018

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: