Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Lost in Translation!

Patrick of Stomping on Yeti blogfame has raised an interesting point which can be found here for lazy peeps:

Do authors consider their target audience when they define their setting?

Do publishers consider setting and their readership when they buy a book set in the real world?

Do readers purchase/enjoy books more when they are familiar with the setting?

Should they?

When posing these questions Patrick gathered together some of the blogging elite - and me - and asked us our impressions of 10 American cities without recourse to Google or any other search function. I found it surprisingly difficult - head to his blog to see the cities and my answers (and those of Mr Alexander of The Speculative Scotsman and Aidan of A Dribble of Ink)

Amusingly, Patrick agreed to return the favour and give his views of 10 British cities (apologies to The Speculative Scotsman for not including anything Scottish!). Here are his replies:

1. London: United Kingdom/England's capital and biggest city although not that many enormous buildings. Combination of modern and historic. Years and years of history from Kings to Castles. CCTV's are everywhere. A world wide melting pot of cultures. Subpar food. Not so great weather. The River Thames. The Underground and mind the gap. Any story could take place in London.

2. Swindon: I have never heard of Swindon. Pass.

3. Oxford: Oxford University/College. One of the world's oldest and finest schools. Historic buildings and perfectly manicured quads. Academia at its finest.

4. Manchester: Manchester United which makes me think of soccer fans and hooligans which makes me think of pubs.

5. Nottingham: Robin Hood bad guys. Also, trees. Pass.

6. Cardiff: Not familiar with Cardiff. For some reason I feel like it's a coastal town. Maybe because Cardiff sounds like cliff.

7. Hastings: The Battle of Hastings 1066. Duke William of Normandy vs. Harold II. Harold got killed by an arrow. (I took a history of modern warfare class in college). Changed the course of European/World history forever. Southern England and close to the English Channel/France. Current Hastings? Again, pass.

8. Canterbury: Canterbury tales by Chaucer. I believe it's the center of power for the Anglican Church under the archbishop of Canterbury so there are probalby some really old and really nice cathedrals.

9. Newcastle: Again soccer and beer. Newcastle Ale. Not sure whatelse. Boy I am failing miserably.

10. Bath: Bath Abbey/Church. Roman Hot Springs. Very old city that has gone through years of changes but still maintains roots to the ancient past. Sprawling but still a lot more green than crowded London.

I happen to think that Patrick did pretty well, considering the level of knowledge that we Brits believe the Americans have about any part of the UK that isn't London!

From my point of view, and in answer to Patrick's questions above, I think that authors generally write about what they know. Kelley Armstrong who writes in the urban fantasy field is a Canadian author - and her books are set in Canada (just as a for instance). It creates more work for an author to try and capture the mood of a city that they simply aren't familiar with, in my opinion.

I couldn't possibly claim to know whether publishers consider settings when they buy a book - it would be interesting to hear from them!

Lastly, I never purchase a book simply for the setting (after all, a number of my favourite books are set in distinctly otherworldly settings) but I do confess to feeling a thrill when I know about the locations in a book. Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere is an old favourite of mine, and part of this might well be because of the setting.

Not too sure on my conclusions here, but I found it a very interesting exercise - and I suspect I will be much more attentive about book settings in the future. Head over to Patrick's blog to join in the discussion!


  1. Amanda, you beast! Not a single Scottish city? :I

    Honestly, I'd have thought Edinburgh or Glasgow before Swindon, and I don't have the most self-inflated cultural identity at all.

    Still, didn't Yeti do well? And I'd say you're spot-on about our expectations of their expectations; I wouldn't have thought even Patrick would know nearly so much about British cities.

  2. I know, I know! I feel just awful (and secretly wondered whether I shouldn't publish this article so that you would never know about my heinous error!)

    I popped Swindon in there because Patrick offered bonus points for cities that had genre fiction centred there - I couldn't resist (Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series). And I felt it was our version of Indianapolis :-)