I have just seen the trailer for what looks a wonderfully naff film about the burgeoning romance between a certain Kate and William. What strikes me about it is the complete lack of sense of place – in this case St Andrews, which really ought to be the star of the piece as an all round very romantic place.
This got me thinking about place in my work and how I like to use places that I know or visit as a jumping off point for my imagination. I have talked a bit about this process here for The Daughters of Blane, so I thought it would be fun to have a look at some of the other locations I’ve used. Being your own location manager is one of the best bits of writing fiction and much easier than fanatasy casting.
I shall try not to give away too much of the story as I do this, in case you haven’t read it.
Green Grow the Rushes starts in the Scottish Borders, in a country house called the Quarro. The location and general setting of the The Quarro is Traquair House
but the house described in the book is Errdig, near Wrexham.
Errdig is a complete time capsule of a house with all the staff quarters beautifully preserved and has the most extraordinary other worldly quality to the place which seemed perfect for the opening phase on the novel, when the characters all fall in love with the wrong people.
The next phase of the story is in Edwardian Edinburgh and I had my heroine Jessie and her new husband set up home in a flat in Marchmont Road that actually belonged to some friends we had at the time. But the best place to get the idea of a middle class flat in a Scottish city of the time is to go to the Tenement House Museum in Glasgow.
Ralph Erskine and his family live on the other side of Edinburgh in Rothesay Terrace, in a house that was in fact built for the owner of the Scotsman newspaper.
It is now the Melvin House Hotel and currently being refurbished. I shall go and have a look when it is done!
Alix, Ralph’s sister goes off to study at St Andrews University, where she lives, like many respectable women students of her day in the all female hall of residence, University Hall.
I lived here myself for 2 years. When my mother (ex Newnham College) dropped me off for my first term she remarked “This is just like Newnham” which is what the founder, also ex-Newnham, intended.
The Erskine family decide to retire to Fife and buy an old mansior near Cupar, which they hire Philip Winterfield (the architect hero of my first novel) to remodel for them. This house is called Allansfield and is inspired by the very wonderful Hill of Tarvit, also near Cupar. Sadly, because of financial squeezes, the house is now closed but the gardens are still open.
In fact, I love this house so much I have included it in my only contemporary novel so far, The Wild Garden, (coming soon as an ebook) and the house still belongs to the Erskine family.
It features a wonderful, state of the art Edwardian kitchen and adjoining Butler’s Pantry (with a wooden sink) as well as some incredibly beautiful rooms for the family to live in. It is terribly sad that it’s closed and I can’t send you all off for a day trip there.
If any of this takes your fancy you can find out more about where to buy Green Grow the Rushes here.