Well, for today, I thought that I’d ramble about the subject of familiar and unfamiliar locations in fiction. But, I’m going to have to start by talking about art and television for a little while. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious soon.
Anyway, I ended up thinking about this topic because (although I haven’t watched it at the time of writing), I happened to read about a TV series that is set in an amazing town called Aberystwyth, where I lived for about four years.
This is a town that I have a lot of good memories of, and it turns up in my creative works quite a lot. For example the setting of my occasional webcomic is loosely-based on it and I also still make nostalgic paintings about it every now and then, like this upcoming painting:
This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 1st December.
Yet, when I read about the fact that there was an actual TV series set there, I suddenly realised that I’d never seen a scripted TV series or a feature film that was set anywhere that I’d lived for any length of time. Even the few full-length novels that are set in really familiar places (eg: for Aberystwyth, this would be Niall Griffith’s “Grits” and Louie Knight’s novels) have been languishing on my gigantic “to read” pile for literally years.
It’s this last point that really made me think about familiar places and fiction. Because, logically speaking, I should have read these books at least once by now. I should have already watched that TV series I mentioned earlier several years ago (either when it was broadcast on BBC Four, or on DVD). Yet, at the time of writing, I’ve still got to get round to looking at these things.
In part, I guess that it’s because I’m worried that they might not live up to my memories of these places. But, in a lot of ways, it’s because the idea of reading or watching a fictional story (by someone else) set somewhere really familiar seems deeply alien to me. After all, throughout most of my life, stories are things that happen in other places. They’re a way to see other places, to daydream about other places, to escape the boringly familiar… or to transform it into something more interesting.
I mean, when I actually lived in Aberystwyth, I happened to read a novel that was set in New Orleans and North Carolina (and, no, I’ve never been to America). After I read this book, I couldn’t help but think of an awesome pub/nightclub in Aberystwyth called “The Angel Inn” as being similar to a (fictional) bar from the novel called “The Sacred Yew”.
Likewise, after reading/watching a couple of other things set in New Orleans, a balcony on an old house I saw near the coast in Aberystwyth suddenly made me think of a gothic version of New Orleans:
This is a photo, that I took in 2009, of a street in Aberystwyth (with number plates redacted). The balcony on the house on the right-hand side of the photo reminded me of an imagined gothic version of New Orleans.
Plus, after I read several novels about New Orleans restaurants by the same author and happened to see a few pictures of that city, a green building on Aberystwyth high street suddenly made me think of New Orleans (even though I’ve never been there):
This is another photo of Aberystwyth that I took in 2009. The building that reminded me of New Orleans is the green one with the turret in the middle of the photo.
Rather than being unsettlingly bizarre, these daydreams about an unfamiliar place (New Orleans) made a familiar place (Aberystwyth) seem ten times cooler than it already was. They added a bit of additional depth and interest to somewhere that I thought of as “ordinary” at the time. And, maybe this is one reason why fiction set in unfamiliar places is so interesting – because it makes you think about familiar places in new ways.
But, more than all of this, another cool side-effect of not seeing/reading many stories set in familiar places is that it makes you want to create your own.
I mean, although I occasionally wrote (unpublished) stories set in Aberystwyth when I was actually living there, the reason why it’s a recurring location in my art and comics these days is because I’m really nostalgic about it. If there were hundreds of films, novels etc… set there, then I’d probably get my nostalgia fix from these things instead of creating stuff. Likewise, if I still lived there, it would still just be “ordinary” and I’d probably want to make stuff about other places.
So, yes, not seeing really familiar locations in films, books, games etc… isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It widens your imagination and it also prompts you to be more creative too.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂