Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Home Towns

Decorating, for whatever reason, has me thinking quite a lot about 'home'. It's a weakness of my writing that my characters rarely have strong ties to their homes - in The Second Realm, most of the characters either leave home early on or have already left when we meet them, with little looking back. Only two characters who have speaking roles in more than one episode stay close to home in the entire story.

Another side of this is that my characters' home locations tend to be underdeveloped and vague. Particularly with stories set partly in this world, I avoid naming places that characters are from, and tend to brush over describing their home environments. That's not entirely accidental, since I find myself switching off quite a lot when I read books where home towns are prominently featured (especially the obsession of British urban fantasy authors with a romanticised London, a topic for another time), but I do have something of a blind spot for home places, and I think I've figured out at least part of why.

My father's parents were born and grew up in Birkenhead, the town on the opposite side of the river from where I now live, but moved to the Lake District (~60 miles north and rural rather than urban) when dad was three years old. Dad grew up there, went to university in Stoke (south of here) and settled in Manchester (east).

My mother's parents settled just southwest of London (~200 miles south) when they married, having grown up on opposite sides of the capital. Mum moved north for university, where she met dad, and they were still living near Manchester when I was born. I grew up there before moving to Liverpool nine years ago.

The point of all this detail is that I don't have strong family ties to any particular location. My adult life has been spent in a (very) different city to the one I grew up in, my parents' adult lives crossed similar divides from their childhoods. Even visiting my grandparents as a child, I wasn't visiting them in places where they grew up or where they had family ties to the community (my mother's parents moved to the other side of the country after my aunts and uncles had all left home).

It's a result - I won't say 'symptom' - of the way the economy worked for the university-educated middle classes in post-war Britain; actually in some ways a great freeing-up of movement as high-quality jobs emerged across the country (not so common these days, since a far higher portion of the degree-level jobs are in London now). But it does leave me feeling a bit rootless.

I have never been 'a local' anywhere, even in the town of my birth. My accent, particularly, marks me out as 'not from around here' pretty much anywhere I go; to southerners, I speak too quickly and harshly, and to northerners I sound too precise, a little bit snobby. Only once has a stranger ever correctly identified my birthplace from my accent, and he wasn't friendly about it (in fairness, I'd started the argument).

So perhaps it's no surprise that I struggle to tie my characters to their homes. By the time I'd realised how ridiculous the situation is in The Second Realm, it was too late to do anything about it, but I'll be looking out for it in the future (though it has to be said that sometimes I write rootless, alienated characters deliberately, as in a number of the things I'm working on for following The Second Realm - he said, getting his excuses in first).

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