Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Writer's World - Setting as Inspiration - Annie West

Welcome to another instalment of my Writer's World. This month I'm endeavouring to do justice to some questions sent in by a reader. Don't forget to let me know if there's something you're particularly curious about. It may feature in a future post.

So, the question related to finding inspiration and how that translates into stories.

Often it's hard to know what inspires a story and it's usually an amalgam of experiences and ideas. Sometimes I find it easier to talk about my inspiration after I've written the book as then I can recognise tiny seeds of ideas that might have come from particular places.

For me one of the strongest sources of inspiration is place. A location might not inspire the story idea, but it's a big part of what keeps the story strong and real in my mind, even if I'm writing about a fictitious place. Especially if I'm writing about a fictitious place. Then, more than ever, I try to ground myself in aspects of a locality that seem real.

So, for an example. My current US release GIRL IN THE BEDOUIN TENT is set initially in a massive, luxurious tent in the middle of a wilderness. Later it moves to a thriving middle eastern city and its fabulous royal palace. I was lucky to be able to draw on some of my own experiences while writing this. No - I don't mean being kidnapped and presented to a sheikh for his pleasure. I think my husband would have something to say about that! But there were plenty of other inspirations. These photos are some I took a couple of years ago, and they helped inspire me as I wrote.

So too did memories of being in the desert, especially at night when the cold bites your bones and makes you think of snuggling up to someone. The scent of the wilderness, not just sand, or gravel, but vegetation too. The aroma of meat roasted with spices over charcoal (mouthwatering). Seeing sprawling black nomad tents and wondering what they were like on the inside. The rhythm of a camel's gait as it carries you high above the ground. The creak of the saddle as the animal rises and its strange, disdainful comments on your riding ability (well, that's what it sounds like).

Then there were the towns and cities with traffic ranging from luxury cars to donkeys. I remember particular scents I can't identify, but which convinced me more than anything that I was in a foreign place. The tastes, of course, which I loved. The spice markets with huge conical towers of cumin, coriander, saffron and so on.

The streets full of metal work, gleaming in the sun or perhaps in a covered bazaar, lit by electric light. Jewellery shops that make your jaw drop, filled to the brim with gold bangles, necklaces and earrings. Shop after shop filled with vibrant materials your fingers just itch to touch. Perfume stores containing the most amazing array of scents. I remember my first visit to Egypt and the heady scent of attar of roses. I fell for the Cleopatra fantasy then and there.

For something completely different, my April UK release, UNDONE BY HIS TOUCH is set in Australia. It's partly located in central Sydney, a place I know and can write with ease. However, much of the book takes place in the Blue Mountains west of the city.

The mountains are incredibly scenic and fascinating, and dangerous too. Lives have been lost over the years as bushwalkers got lost and climbers and canyoners came to grief. It's a climbing misadventure that is the catalyst for this story where the hero loses his brother and his eyesight. He then determines to bring to book the woman he blames for his brother's death. Despite the dark start to the story it was written from a deep love for this area. Here's one of my favourite walks, near Wentworth Falls.

You can see the landscape is imposing. As well as that, there's a tradition of wealthy Sydney people building their holiday retreats in the area. There are some gorgeous old homes there - gracious and with commanding views from the plateau. The perfect place for a recuperating billionaire to retreat and lick his wounds in private. Till he finds the woman he's seeking is right under his nose.

For me the mountains conjure images of crisp days, shimmering summer heat and curling winter fog, birdsong, fantastic cafes and bookshops, immaculate gardens and of course stunning scenery.

Are there places that inspire you? Special places that make you feel good? Maybe somewhere you'd like to write about or have written in. Or if you don't write, somewhere you just love visting?

I'll give away a signed copy of one of my books to someone who leaves a comment.

In the meantime, you might like to check out my latest releases. You can read about them on my website and learn more about what inspired these particular stories. GIRL IN THE BEDOUIN TENT is out now in North America. UNDONE BY HIS TOUCH is an April release in Britain, then May for Australia and New Zealand and June for North America.


  1. Interesting post Annie :)

    I do enjoy reading the background writers use for their books. I loved “Girl in the Bedouin Tent” and you did a good job in creating an evocative imagery of the desert.

    I like reading books of places overseas especially where the writer has been able to include interesting information without it reading as a traveller’s guide.

    BTW – the cover of “Undone” is gorgeous and I’m looking forward to reading it :)

  2. Joanne, I've read Undone and it's fabulous! And you can really feel that Blue Mountains atmosphere. I think Annie's a master at writing setting. I agree about GITBT being great. The desert absolutely comes alive in the imagination when you read that book.

    Annie, really enjoyed the post. And what lovely photos. Thanks for sharing them with us. As you know, I'm a sucker for great setting in a book. And it's a part of my books that I always enjoy creating - generally I create an amalgam of real places. I particularly love English stately homes so it's wonderful to be able to use elements of those wonderful architectural masterpieces in my stories.

  3. Hi Joanne,

    Thanks - I'm glad the desert fantasy worked for you in 'Bedouin Tent'. Like you I love reading about places foreign to me. I've learned so much through the years from my romance reading!

    Hope you enjoy 'Undone By His Touch' when you get to it.

  4. Gee, Anna, I'll get a swelled head with this praise. But don't let that stop you! Seriously, I'm thrilled you find the settings in my stories work. They're usually like another character to me and make such a difference to what I write.

    Love those English stately homes - so redolent in history. That's one of the things I love about historical romances - the sense of the past coming alive, especially if I can see the connections to places that still exist. I envisage you travelling around the UK salivating over great locations.

  5. Hi Annie, what a neat post. How I'm inspired depends on what mood I'm in really but the current place where I'm getting overloaded with inspiration is the different blogs I follow on Blogger. Food, crafts, stories, organisation, oh my gosh, inspiration heaven.

    I think where you and your colleagues are talented is that you have the ability to turn your inspiration into words; amazing words that in turn move and inspire us the readers.

    Have a great week.

  6. I like looking at buildings, picking out which bits belong to different periods, and wondering about the people who lived in them - and what they saw when they looked out of the windows...


  7. I love reading about what inspires an author to write their stories and the setting is such an important factor. thanks for the pictures and insights.

    My special place will always be the small town in the Canadian Rockies where I was born. I love mountainous settings in books so I will be watching for Undone By His Touch in NA.

  8. Hi Tash,

    Great to hear from you. I know what you mean about blogs as a source of inspiration. Sometimes I come across one that makes me look at something in a completely new way or which gives a fascinating slant on something I'd never thought of. Love the sharing of ideas.

    It's terrific to hear your take on the work we writers do, turning inspiration into stories. Thank you!

  9. Hi Kaelee,

    I'm with you. When I was asked to write about the places that inspired my books I was pleased to do it because I love reading that sort of detail from other writers. I love the stories behind things, not just behind books, but behind other pieces of work people have made - how they came to do something that means a lot to them.

    The Canadian Rockies sound fantastic. A place I've wanted to see most of my life. I'm not surprised you have a special place there. Hope you enjoy 'Undone' when it comes out!

  10. Hi Anonymous. What a terrific way to find inspiration - from the buildings around you. I get fascinated by old building too, but it must be hard some times envisaging what the view was like from them in the past. Particularly in the cities things change so much. That sounds fascinating!

  11. It's very early in the morning here and I know the next post won't be up for a while. I have to go out for the day, so I won't draw a winner for my book prized till after the next post is up. Just thought I'd mention it in case anyone is checking specifically. When I come back I'll check any new posts and do my random draw so do please come back later and find out who's won my book.

    Talk later!

  12. Some gorgeous, lyrical descriptions there, Annie! I love a good setting too. Thanks for sharing some of your inspirations.

  13. Hi Imelda,

    Thanks for dropping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

  14. Hi everyone,

    OK, I've done my random draw and the winner of one of my books is Kaelee. CONGRATULATIONS! Kaelee, if you email me at annie@annie-west.com with your postal address I'll get the book in the mail to you.

    All the best,