Help me out here, friends.

Which is better:
– A story set in a real place, where the author bends the local truth a little, or
– A made up setting you sort of recognise?

I get the appeal of a story that mentions places you recognise. One of my friends (Hi, Nyrie!) had the weird experience of being in Metricup reading the scene in Meet Me at the Hanging Tree which mentions Metricup. One of my other pals was thrilled that Tim from Hanging Tree was brought up in her home town, Bencubbin. (Hi, Heather! Psst: Bencubbin gets another mention in Meet Me Where The Surf Breaks when that comes out).

My beloved and I visited Los Angeles last year — remember travel? **sigh**. I insisted that we drove up the streets in the hills overlooking Universal Studios where Michael Connolly’s Bosch and Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole both live.

Is that Elvis Cole's house?

We cruised iconic LA streets like Sunset Boulevard and Rodeo Drive and walked on Santa Monica Pier. Now, I get a little jolt of ‘been there’ nostalgia every time I see the names in a book or they pop up in a TV show.

Santa Monica Pier

Hanging Tree and Where the Surf Breaks are both set in Elizabeth River, which is an amalgam of Margaret River, Gracetown, Prevelly and other useful places in Western Australia’s southwest.

For my next book out — Gunshy — I liked the idea of a man with a past hiding out in a caravan park cabin rather like the one in Busselton where my mum lives (Hi Mum!), so it’s set in Busselton. I gaily filled the first draft with locations I know well. There are so many great places for crime novel scenes around Busselton; the Jetty — naturally — the fancy houses around the Geographe Marina, the bicycle path along the beach. You’ve got to have a beach in a Beach Read, right?

Busselton's iconic jetty. Not quite as busy as Santa Monica Pier.

When we were down there last, I made a point of checking out the scenes I’d used in the story and got a bit of a shock. None of them were quite as I remembered. You can’t see the Goose Cafe from the kiosk on the other side of the pirate ship playground, darn it. The bicycle path is in bushes off the beach much more than I thought, which makes it really, really hard to see where you’re going after dark.

On the other hand, I’d never been to Busselton Airport, not even seen a photograph, but when I reviewed what I wrote in Gunshy, I didn’t need to change a word. I guess if you’ve seen one country airport, you’ve seen them all. 

What’s the problem? I hear you ask.

One of the best bits of advice I saw from a publishing agent was ‘I’m from New York, and I absolutely hate books that get things wrong about New York!’ It frightened the life out of me when I wrote Meet Me Under Brooklyn Bridge. I only used places we’ve been to in New York — remember travel? **sigh** — and by incredible good fortune, one of my critiquers on the wonderful Scribophile online writers’ group had lived in New York so, fingers crossed.

The dreadful consequences of getting it wrong are part of the reason why The First Guerrilla is set on the made-up Caribbean Island of Isla Baconne despite its geography being precisely the same as Cuba and heaps of the incidents being stolen from the Cuban Civil War. Okay, it also had a lot to do with laziness and the fact I’ve never been to Cuba. There are still people alive who fought with Fidel. I also denied Sebastien Ochoa the chance to fight alongside Che Guervara because I wanted to write big battle scenes. There are very few battles in real civil wars — only a couple in the entire Cuban revolution.

By the way, despite all that, two of the First Guerrilla reader reviews on Amazon refer to Cuba!

Here’s the thing. 

Do I set Gunshy in Busselton, get it all wrong and annoy people who know the details, or shall I make up a town that everyone from WA knows is **wink, wink** Busselton?

I thought I might call it Baudinville. The first European to visit Geographe Bay was Nicholas Baudin. Baudinville doesn’t roll off the tongue, does it?

Old Nicholas took up residence an aeon or two after the Bibulman and Wardandi Noongar people. Wardandi could work, but I’m not sure about the cultural appropriation aspects, and the southwest isn’t known for Aboriginal place names.

What about Bell’s Landing? I once went to Payne’s Find, and I’ve always loved two-part names like that.

What do you think? 

Help me out. Post your thoughts in the comments below. 

As to writing progress:
– Gunshy is in its final round of edits now. I’m expecting to get it out well before Christmas, and
– I’ve just started the first round of revisions on Meet Me Where The Surf Breaks.

Thanks to all of you who’ve bought Meet Me Under Brooklyn Bridge. Please, please give it a rating on Amazon or, better still, post a review. When it comes to the algorithm that puts books in Amazon searches, ratings help enormously, reviews even more. 😉


7 thoughts to “What’s in a (place) name?

  • Gordon Gudgeon

    Hi TJ
    I have no problem using real Aussie towns and cities as long as you are mostly correct in the description of localities. Most readers understand writers have leeway in their writing. I love that you are putting WA on the world map through your stories.
    Blessings from another beach bum.

    • T.J.

      Thanks, Gordon. Great to hear from you. I’m leaning a little towards leaving it as Busselton at the moment because it’s going to be really obvious, being as it’s a place with a jetty half an hour from Bunbury. 🙂

      • T.J.

        Wow! I just realised you asttached the map. I know that area of old, I worked for the Sound Advertiser as a very young reporter. Nice place. 🙂

  • Andrew

    Hi TJ,
    I probably lean more towards using Bell’s Landing instead of Busselton. I liked that “wink wink” element of Elizabeth River in Meet Me at The Hanging Tree – I think it gives you that little bit more leeway to write the story you want to tell, rather than having to re-write things because they’re not exactly that way in real life 🙂
    Can’t wait for Gunshy and Meet Me Where The Surf Breaks – when is the sequel to The First Guerrilla due out?

    • T.J.

      Darn it. Now I’m swinging back to the **wink, wink** approach. Why am I so floppy? Why is this so hard?
      Oh yes, The Second Guerrilla: M5M. It’s about three-quarters though the second edit stage. There’s a fair amount to do. It ran a bit long. 🙂 🙂

  • Jim

    I prefer a made-up place because I doubt if I will ever travel there and won’t know the difference.

    • T.J.

      Thanks, Jim. I see a pattern emerging…. 🙂

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