I’m currently in a coffee shop between Trinity College and the Department of Manuscripts, enjoying some well-deserved treats before I head over to the Museum (because Bog Bodies!). As it seems every time I go on a trip a friend publishes a book, I’ve been chatting with my friend Elijah David, author of The Albion Quartet, the first book of which, Albion Academy, was recently released. In celebration, I’ve demanded he write even more, and have handed my blog over to him for the day. Thus, without further ado, Elijah David.
Thanks for having me today, Wren!
Since you’re always posting about the wonderful places you’ve traveled to, I thought I could talk a bit about how real-life places show up in my fiction.
I actually have two main real-life settings for most of the stories I’ve published. The John Valley stories (“The Debt-Keeper“, “My Friend the Fish“, “Red: Haunting” and “The Closet”) all take place in a fictionalized version of my hometown in Northwest Florida. Like Ray Bradbury in his Green Town books (Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes, etc.), I wanted to capture something of the world I grew up in, while at the same time exploring the strangeness of life. By writing these stories as fantasy and magical realism, I was able to do more than just retell events I experienced; I could create new stories that fit the setting. In fact, I’m not sure there are any “real” events in these stories. Once I established John Valley, the setting and its characters took on a life all their own. (I should probably note that I have borrowed names higgledy-piggledy in some of these stories which have no bearing on the people who owned them, like my Uncle George’s surname belonging to a haunted house in the Red story. Again, that’s the joy of fiction.)
The other main setting that appears is the setting for Albion Academy and its sequels: Ilium, Alabama. Ilium is patterned (in some ways, but not totally) on the city where I attended college. Even the name is a play on the city’s real name. (The city Ilium is based on also contributed some elements to John Valley.) Here again, I’ve taken liberties by having the town be a fictional version of the real-life city. The advantage of using a real-life location in this way is two-fold. First, I already have a general layout of major landmarks and streets available to me, which saves a lot of effort in the worldbuilding stages. Second, I’m free from the constraints of having to stick too closely to a street map that already exists. It’s having my cake and eating it too.
Using fictionalized versions of real locations isn’t always the best course, however. In Albion Academy, I had to include at least one location that can actually be visited by the readers (although I have sadly not visited it myself). In this case, that’s the Glastonbury Tor. Historically connected to Avalon and Merlin, it was the perfect location to slip into the books. (But you’ll have to be watchful; I don’t name it as such in the novel.) How did I use a place I’d never visited in a novel? Google is your friend, my friends. The wonderful thing about modern technology is that you can find pictures and descriptions of foreign (or just distant) places to help you get the details right. Google Earth and Google Maps have satellite imagery for a lot of places like Glastonbury Tor that can help you get a feel for the scenery.
One thing I haven’t done so far in my fiction is utilize a real location as a main setting without fictionalizing it. I have a story in mind that will do this with Chattanooga, but I believe that will have to wait until after the Albion series is complete.
What real-life locations have you used in fiction? Did you keep the setting strictly in line with the actual place or did you use artistic license? Are there any real locations in fiction you’ve read about where the author made you want to visit?
Elijah David works as a copywriter and content editor at a Chattanooga advertising agency. He holds an MA in English (UTC) and is a member of the Chattanooga Writer’s Guild. An avid reader of fantasy, he started writing Albion Academy when a trio of fictional characters grabbed his attention and wouldn’t let go. He is currently working on the second of four planned books in the world of Albion Academy. In addition, he edits and contributes to the Tolkien journal Silver Leaves. As far as he knows, Elijah’s only magical ability is putting pen to paper.