Sense of Place

March 1, 2016 § Leave a comment

Sense of place – verisimilitude, remember? – has been a really important thing in my development as a writer. A lot of my writing, especially my poetry, has been about capturing a single moment as accurately as I can, even if it isn’t a moment that actually happened.

She’s Charles Bukowski in a negligee but Bukowski is punishing you; Lana still hopes you’ll find her on that revolving bed overlooking Topanga Canyon. She’s been crying for days and her eyeliner has run onto the pink satin, but she’s got fresh lipstick on, a Hollywood smile ready for the lights.

A house we built, or family did. Out of the wood that surrounds us, strong but easily reclaimed by the earth. Deep porch, sheltered by eaves and supported by pillars smooth with the touch of many loving hands. Four steps down, grass.

The grass gradually gives way to gravel and sand, the lapping of water. On that stony shore, you can stand and see for days. There’s an island out there – it’s hidden but waiting. Our boat is near; small but more than able for a storm or two. We painted her red and called her Jenny.

Climb back up the worn steps and pass the swing, drifting gently in the lovely, lonely light. Inside is the smell of woodsmoke, bread and the warm old blankets we’ll drag around our shoulders tonight as we search the sky for icy stars.

The two books I can identify as formative in my childhood are A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett and The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. Both have a richness to their description of rooms and things that has stayed with me in all the years since.

Do you wonder that she felt sure she had not come back to earth? This is what she saw. In the grate there was a glowing, blazing fire; on the hob was a little brass kettle hissing and boiling; spread upon the floor was a thick, warm crimson rug; before the fire a folding-chair, unfolded, and with cushions on it; by the chair a small folding-table, unfolded, covered with a white cloth, and upon it spread small covered dishes, a cup, a saucer, a teapot; on the bed were new warm coverings and a satin-covered down quilt; at the foot a curious wadded silk robe, a pair of quilted slippers, and some books. The room of her dream seemed changed into fairyland—and it was flooded with warm light, for a bright lamp stood on the table covered with a rosy shade.

The Little White Horse

A lost piece of my writing history is a fantasy description I wrote of a house when I was probably 11. It was hugely cribbed from similar descriptions in The Little White Horse (and probably overused adjectives like I’d just discovered them) but I can still feel exactly what I was going for.

Later, Harry Potter made me realise that there are ways to make people feel a sense of place from clues, rather than description. Learning about etymology has given me a vast treasure trove of subconscious bread crumbs I can feed my readers, putting a whispered memory into their minds that they can’t quite place but know in their bones.

[Incidentally, J.K. Rowling has said her favourite childhood book was The Little White Horse and I think it shows in her writing, particularly in descriptions of the house common rooms.]

Last year, I read The Furnished Room by O. Henry. It’s the epitome of sense of place; secrets and hints and whispers run through it, alongside glowing description.

A faint light from no particular source mitigated the shadows of the halls. They trod noiselessly upon a stair carpet that its own loom would have forsworn. It seemed to have become vegetable; to have degenerated in that rank, sunless air to lush lichen or spreading moss that grew in patches to the staircase and was viscid under the foot like organic matter.

One by one, as the characters of a cryptograph became explicit, the little signs left by the furnished room’s procession of guests developed a significance. The threadbare space in the rug in front of the dresser told that lovely women had marched in the throng. The tiny fingerprints on the wall spoke of little prisoners trying to feel their way to sun and air. A splattered stain, raying like the shadow of a bursting bomb, witnessed where a hurled glass or bottle had splintered with its contents against the wall. Across the pier glass had been scrawled with a diamond in staggering letters the name Marie.

That last line is pure, pure magic to me. Marie’s presence is still hanging heavily in the room, etched into importance by the hardness of a diamond. A diamond she cared little enough about to use as a way of marking her time, like a prisoner tearing their fingernails on the wall of their cell.

That’s enough of that.


May 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

Some things I have learned about this month

The Truth About Ruth: The Razing Ruth scam

Part catfish, part malingering, part Munchausen by Internet – it’s a fascinating read and this lady has explored it with the kind of research fervour I can only dream of. Massive props to her for taking the time to give this subject the devotion it deserves.

The Amityville Horror

Obviously I’d heard this name and it certainly is emotive, but I didn’t know any of the details. I’ve just started reading an overview of it and might order the Jay Anson book.


I’d heard of this in relation to writing – it’s the stuff that makes a story seem real. However, it’s also a philosophical argument about degrees of truth. So, if you have a fact and two falsehoods, can one falsehood be ‘more true’ than the other even though it is still completely untrue?

An example of this is all the scientific ‘facts’ that have since been proved inaccurate. Each step towards the actual truth was ‘less false’ than the previous assertion. So, can something be ‘more true’ while still being false? A maze of thought. 🙂


A new word! It means “Destructive to both sides in a conflict”. Very useful.

Stewart Lee

Stewart Lee is a comedian of such startling intelligence that he actually scares his audiences. His searing wit, rambling delivery and incredible use of repetition to the point of risk is just brilliant. Click his name for some video clips. I admire him very much.

Online courses

Skillshare – a place of many online courses, but it is paid. I’m about to start this copywriting course with my free month.

MIT OpenCourseWare – MIT’s actual course notes, published on the internet for you to use for free. Wow. I’m trying this one on psycholinguistics.

Ballet workouts

I’ve been after an adult ballet class for ages but they’re few and far between – and almost always at Yummy Mummy times (11am on a Tuesday for example). So I’ve turned to YouTube and found looooads of free videos so I’m hoping I can persuade myself to just GET ON WITH IT alone.

Moz’s Whiteboard Friday on content marketing

As someone who writes ‘content’ for marketing, it’s good to see Moz tackling the myths around it. Content is great for marketing but it’s not going to double your sales in a week. Or a month. Or even a year. However awesome your content is, it will very rarely lead to a direct sale. Content marketing is about brand awareness, trust and community.

Rachel Rabbit White on dating bisexual men

I hate to link you to something called ‘Girl Talk’ on a site named ‘The Frisky’ but Rachel Rabbit White is a fascinating writer. You may loathe her style but she is somehow hypnotic. I think it’s because she seems like a woman who has dismissed the views of the world because literally no one could hate or love her more than she hates and loves herself.

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