A true sense of place – Tracy Corbett

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By Tracy Corbett

A sense of place is a key element in most stories. Creating the right backdrop can bring the story to life and enable the reader to be exported to the setting of your novel. ♥

My second book The Summer Theatre by the Sea is set in the beautiful county of Cornwall. It was originally set in Looe, a place I’d frequently visited and felt I had a real sense of. . . until my partner pointed out that you can’t surf in the English channel, and my main male character is a keen surfer! Surfing is only possible off the Atlantic side of Cornwall – hence why research is so important!

It was too late to move the story, so I ended up creating the fictional town of Penmullion. My research wasn’t wasted as I was still able to use the layout of Looe, with its sloping hills, winding narrow lanes and fishing port. And the beach in my story is still based on the cove at Seaton. It’s a very pretty beach with sand dunes and a craggy rock face. There’s a wooden cafe that I’ve used in the book, which is a lovely place to stop off and have a warm drink, enjoy the scenery and people-watch – my favourite pastime.

It’s probably no surprise that The Corineus Theatre is based on The Minack at Penzance. What a stunning venue. The stage is cut into the rock face, looking almost as if its suspended in thin air. With the waves crashing behind and the wind swirling around the stone walls, it’s quite a spectacle. I hadn’t realised until visiting the theatre to watch a production of Amadeus that the cast are all amateurs. Each summer season various amateur groups from around the country travel down to Cornwall to put on a show. The quality of the shows is brilliant and it’s quite an honour to be chosen to perform there. I was captivated, my creative juices began to flow and the idea to write a story was born.

My latest book Starlight on the Palace Pier is set in Brighton. Using a real place meant that I had to check my facts and ensure I didn’t make any glaring mistakes. . . like the surfing blunder. I visited the town to ensure I got a feel for the area, but I also spoke to people who lived there. They were able to give me an insight into the town, something I wouldn’t have picked up from just visiting as a tourist. For example, I discovered that the town had dramatically changed over recent decades.

It had once been a rundown seaside town filled with cheap housing and amusement arcades, but had been redeveloped into a vibrant, modern city filled with culture, diversity, and ex-Londoners who wanted to own a trendy dwelling by the sea. I knew there were two piers and that the original pier had been destroyed by fire. What I didn’t know was that according to local legend, a boat was seen leaving the pier thirty minutes before flames were seen and rumours began to circulate about who might be behind the fire.

Whereas visitors tend to head for the pier with its helter skelter, dodgem cars, amusement arcades and an inflatable castle, locals prefer hanging out in the laines. This is the quirky and unique area of Brighton where it’s not uncommon to stumble across Rolfe from the Muppets playing a piano. A zebra busking. Or a mobility scooter customised to look like Herbie. And then of course there’s the shops! If you’re looking for something a little ‘alternative’ then Brighton is the place to be, with shops like Irregular Choice (fab shoes), Choccywoccydoodah (to-die-for-chocolate), and Pretty Eccentric and Tuff Tarts for those with a love of retro clothing, it’s a shopper’s paradise. Add in the market stalls, street entertainers and eateries, it’s street theatre at its finest.

My next project is set in The Highlands of Scotland, and I’ve followed the same format for collecting research. A combination of using the internet, reading, collecting local maps, and visiting the place. But most of all, speaking to people who know the area intimately, because it’s the only way of ensuring you get a true sense of the place and that anyone reading your story who lives there will believe it’s authentic.

Tracy Corbett lives with her partner in Surrey and works part-time for a local charity. She’s been writing for a number of years and has had a few short stories published in My Weekly magazine before her first novel The Forget-Me-Not Flower Shop was published in 2017. The Summer Theatre by the Sea followed in April 2018, and her third novel Starlight on the Palace Pier is due out in October 2018. As well as belonging to a local writing group, she enjoys amateur dramatics and can regularly be found dressing up in strange costumes and prancing about the stage!


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