A novel sense of place

How should a novelist go about creating a sense of place? In One Day, David Nicholls wrote about places in Edinburgh he knew well. For his latest book, Us — which he describes as  a kind of road movie by rail”– he made use of Google Street View to zoom around some cities he had never visited. But the exercise left him worrying that he’d been cheating and might have missed something.

It’s impossible, he writes in the Review section of The Guardian, “to read about Mavis Gallant’s Paris, Isherwood’s Berlin, or any number of locations in Conrad and Greene and not feel as if that environment has been both observed and experienced at first-hand; fiction as first-class travel writing, with the author as our man in Havana.”

His own inclination, he concludes, “is to continue to go there if I can, to find points on the map… because the research is often as much about reassuring the author as convincing the reader.”

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