All my teen books so far have been set in the contemporary world. The stories may contain elements of fantasy (psychic powers in the Medusa Project series) or science fiction (human cloning in the Blood Ties series) but the settings are ‘real’. This doesn’t mean I always use actual place names. Sometimes I make-up names that sound like the sort of town you’d find in a particular area (such as Evanport in Connecticut for Girl, Missing or Norbourne on the South Coast for Sister, Missing) but that’s just so that I’m not tied to the geography of a particular location.
I have huge admiration for authors who create worlds from the ground up, whether they’re writing fantasy stories where the settings are born out of their imaginations or whether they’re creating historical narratives demanding a grueling level of patient research. For me, the fun is mostly in the writing, and using our own, ordinary world as the backdrop to often extraordinary events makes it easy to orientate my readers with references to the types of buildings, brand names and local customs we are all familiar with.
Places I have lived
A lot of my stories feature North London, where I now live. Ketty has a vision of herself hiding behind a tomb in Highgate Cemetry – a place she later visits for real in The Hostage. Luke and Eve spend time in Waterlow Park in Six Steps to a Girl while Flynn and River meet in Priory Park in Falling Fast. It’s fun referencing these places which I know so well – and very easy to see the characters in my mind’s eye.
Two of my son’s schools have featured in my books: Theo’s school in Blood Ties – which he escapes from over a high wall – was loosely based on my son’s junior school, while a later school was the inspiration for Fox Academy.
My own school, in South-East London, features in Blood Ties. Rachel is possibly the character I felt closest to when writing – so maybe its no surprise that whenever I wrote about her school building I was imagining the school I attended, even down to it being positioned on a hill.
Places I’ve visited
Sometimes, of course, my characters venture outside London and when that happens I’m often relying on my memory to supply places that I can describe convincingly. I’ve visited Spain on holiday many times (and, when I was 18, as an au pair) and Spanish is the one foreign language where I know a few words and phrases that I can use in my stories. I deployed my memories of Spain when I was writing Three’s a Crowd – largely set in a hotel in Mallorca – and also The Rescue, though I have never lived in a boot camp in the desert!
Sometimes I write about locations I have recently spent time in. I was working on Blood Ties during a visit to my brother, who lives in Washington D.C. in the United States. My memories of M Street in Georgetown and the Lincoln Memorial were both very strong when I wrote the scenes set there. I wrote Blood Ransom shortly after a spate of book tours in beautiful Scotland. Roslinnon, where Rachel has been relocated, and the mysterious Isle of Calla are made-up, but I have seen places that look very like them.
Although I am based in London I have friends and family who live on the South Coast of England. When I wrote Sister, Missing, I created a place called Norbourne as the location for the holiday home Lauren is staying in at the start of the story – and the beach where her sister goes missing. Norbourne is loosely based on Westbourne, near Bournemouth. I changed the name because the references are not exact – but when I was writing about the pizza restaurant which Lauren visits when she’s trying to track down the boy who stopped her on the beach I was totally imagining the seafront restaurant Vesuvio in Alum Chine!
I love the trailer my publishers made for Sister, Missing. It wasn’t filmed in the precise place I’d imagined the story happening, but it absolutely captures the sandy beach and row of beach huts of my imagination.