When you arrive in France, one of the first words you see is ‘location’. It seems rather delightfully apt – a reminder that you’ve arrived somewhere more exciting than home – until you realise it means something different in French. Hire. Location de voiture, for example: car hire.
I rather like that double meaning as a metaphor for the way writers use locations. We hire them (or borrow them) for a short while, for our own purposes. We use them to explore places, to try out a different kind of life, to immerse ourselves in a particular culture. We rent some imaginary space in which to play out our stories.
The places where my novels are set are important. The houses my characters live in or visit are almost as significant as the characters themselves, and so too are the villages or towns or cities they inhabit, the landscapes they travel through, even the seasons and the weather they encounter. All of it helps to shape the experience of the novel – to add colour, contour, smell, sound, temperature – and to make the world it occupies real and solid and meaningful (and I hope not merely, to quote W.S Gilbert, to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative).
But even if the locations we write about are real, or at least based on real examples, they become ours, become part of our fictional world, for the time we have them in our possession – and they take on a different reality again in the minds of readers. That, it seems to me, is a crucial part of the magic of fiction. However clear the picture of a house, a landscape, a scene in the writer’s mind, and however precisely it’s described, every reader will imagine it differently. They, too, will make it their own for the duration: it becomes their ‘location’, their hired story, something for them to explore and inhabit in their own way.
So I hesitate a little to provide pictures of the location for The Things You Do For Love, but – as we roll into the summer, and some of you are heading off, perhaps, to explore France in your voiture de location – here are a couple of images to whet your appetite for the long stretch of the novel which is set in France – and specifically in Touraine, land of St-Maure-de-Touraine goat’s cheese and my favourite wine of all time, Vouvray.