Creating A Vivid Setting, A Guest Post from Jane Lythell, author of Woman of the Hour

Cover WOTH

I’m delighted to be welcoming Jane Lythell onto Linda’s Book Bag today as part of her summer blog hop. Jane’s latest novel Woman of the Hour was published by Head of Zeus on 14th July 2016 and is available for purchase as a hardback or an e-book on Amazon, Kobo and other good booksellers.

To celebrate Woman of the Hour Jane has kindly written a guest post all about creating a vivid setting.

Woman of the Hour

E-book and Paperback cover woman of the hour_rough 2_new_1

E-book and paperback cover

Meet Liz Lyon: respected TV producer, stressed-out executive, guilty single mother… woman of the hour.

StoryWorld is the nation’s favourite morning show, and producer Liz Lyon wants to keep it that way. Her job is to turn real-life stories into thrilling TV – and keep a lid on the scandals and backbiting that happen off-stage.

But then simmering tensions erupt at the station, trapping Liz in a game of one-upmanship where she doesn’t know the rules. As the power struggle intensifies, can Liz keep her cool and keep her job? Does she even want to?

In this gripping novel of power, rivalry and betrayal, Jane Lythell draws on her experiences of working in the glamorous, pressurised world of live TV.

Creating A Vivid Setting

A Guest Post by Jane Lythell

Setting is vitally important in a novel and I think about it a lot. It may be my background as a TV producer but I need to see very clearly the spaces my characters will move through. Only then can I write scenes that feel real. Sometimes I even sketch the locations out roughly to help me get it right.

In my latest novel Woman of the Hour I have created two main locations: a TV station housed in a converted Victorian warehouse on the river by London Bridge and a flat in Chalk Farm where my leading character, Liz Lyon, lives with her daughter Flo. How did I set about creating a visual sense of these two places?

Liz is a producer at the TV station and I wanted it to be a dramatic and visually striking place because it was going to be the cauldron where much of the drama would unfold. Liz likes the space where she works:

‘I’ve worked here for years yet I still find that the building gives me a lift when I arrive in the mornings. The architect who converted it used its space to great effect and there’s this dramatic light-filled atrium which you enter from the street. Off the atrium are the main studio, the small news studio, dressing rooms and the Hub, our staff café. There are two staircases, on either side of the atrium, which take you up to the executive offices above; features is on the left and news is on the right. It is a very showbiz building.

I included small details like the fact that Fizzy the TV presenter demands a posy of fresh flowers on the set every day; that the staff café has lime-green and orange designer tables and chairs and trendy lighting and that Julius Jones, the big boss, has the large corner office with the best views over the river and acres of polished oak floor. The reader needs to be able to see the building and believe that this is what a TV station is like. It is a glamorous building with an appearance designed to impress. TV is in the business of creating illusions and the impression it makes is more important than the reality.

In contrast Liz’s home is her personal space where you see the real, emotional Liz. You can reveal aspects of your character in their choice of home. After her divorce Liz is keen to have a nice home for her daughter so she takes on a mortgage that is too big for her. This means she can’t afford to leave her job even when the stress gets to her. Her flat is both a millstone around her neck and her haven:

          There’s not much of a garden, it’s more a patio with potted plants, but there’s room enough for Flo and me to have two deckchairs out there in the summer and to pretend we have a garden. It’s not a big flat inside either. It does have one beautiful large room, the living room, which is also our kitchen and dining room. There are doors at the far end which open onto the patio and I bought the flat because of this room. It’s costing me more than I can comfortably afford and a great slab of my salary goes on my mortgage every month. But my flat is my haven.

When Liz gets home from work she often cooks in order to decompress so I included scenes of her making macaroni cheese or flapjacks. I show her ironing. Her home environment is cosy with its squashy yellow sofa and the outdoor lights that twinkle along the garden wall.

BRIGHT After The Storm cover

Writing a novel set in a TV station and a London flat was not the easiest of settings to bring alive but it was important to try to do so. However with my second novel, After the Storm, I had a fantastic opportunity to create a vivid setting. The novel is about two couples who set off together in a sailing boat after knowing each other less than 24 hours to sail from Belize City in Central America to a paradise island in the Caribbean Sea called Roatan. I had made that sail of 138 miles and I could not have written After the Storm without that first-hand experience. It was a stunning place and I kept a journal and took lots of photographs. My journal was full of descriptions of the food I ate, the birds on the island and the fish I saw when I went snorkelling. These details helped me create the visual setting and as a result conch stew, cooking live lobsters in a boat, houses on stilts and pelicans landing clumsily on a mangrove tree all make an appearance in the novel.

By creating a vivid setting you can establish mood and atmosphere, you can reveal characters and you can make the world of your novel feel very immediate. You know you’ve got it right when readers say things like ‘I felt I was there’ or ‘It felt so real.’

About Jane Lythell

13 Oct 2014 Author pic

Jane lives in Brighton, UK andis a sea-lover, star gazer, film and football fan.She worked as a television producer for fifteen years. Jane then moved to the British Film Institute as Deputy Director, did one year as Chief Executive of BAFTA (miserable) followed by seven years at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (interesting). Jane now writes full time.

You can follow Jane on Twitter and find her on Facebook. She also has a blog. After the Storm was published in 2015 and is available here.

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