Today I’m joining the blog tour for The Elephant Girl by Henriette Gyland, courtesy of Rachel’s Random Resources, with a guest post.
Henriette writes about Researching A Location…
A small part of The Elephant Girl is set in Goa in India, and I have a confession to make: I’ve never been to Goa…!
You probably wonder why I chose Goa in the first place, and how I went about making it as authentic as possible?
I chose Goa because I’d seen some of my friends’ holiday photos, and it seemed like a very beautiful place. My friends certainly raved about it! And also because it’s very varied, depending on which beach/area you go to – some are “party beaches”, others ideal for families with young children, and others again are quieter and less frequented which suit a different crowd.
And maybe also because the actor Matt Damon is seen going for a morning run along a quiet Goan beach in The Bourne Supremacy, the second film in the Bourne franchise… I just couldn’t get the image out of my head – it’s Matt Damon after all 🙂
The third reason for choosing Goa, or India in general, is that although the country is a so-called “emerging economy”, there’s still real poverty, with many homeless people and orphaned children living on the streets. This feeling of having nothing and not belonging anywhere is something the main character Helen identifies with very strongly.
So, I had already visualised my setting to an extent, but I needed more.
Photos are an obvious choice. Lots of them. This is so you can describe a place accurately, or as accurately as possible. Google Images is a fantastic tool, and you can also go on Google Earth and use the Street View function. Business websites and Facebook pages often have photo albums, so you can get a glimpse of what hotels, museums and restaurants look like both on the outside as well as indoors.
Distances is another important factor. Google Maps is brilliant for this – just type in your starting point and destination, and it’ll tell you how long it takes to travel by car, bus/train and on foot. If you can get hold of train and bus timetables, this is even better. In The Elephant Girl Helen travels from Goa to Mumbai Airport by coach, a journey which takes her about 18 hours (!). I discovered this by reading an online travelblog, which also helpfully mentioned the number of rest stops along the way.
Local attractions are also worth mentioning. Even if your character doesn’t visit a particular museum/church/monument, these are still there and can help put your story on the map.
Then it’s the kind of people who live in your chosen location. The Goan beach in The Elephant Girl is not overrun by tourists because it’s set during the monsoon season, so apart from a few intrepid travellers, it’s mainly locals – barmen, shop keepers, fishermen, taxi drivers, boys playing cricket on the beach etc.
Use your five senses to create authenticity, e.g. the smell of a fish curry (they eat a lot of fish in Goa), the feel of sari fabric running through your fingers, the noise from impatient tuk-tuk drivers honking their horns etc. For the sounds I used YouTube videos, and also to help me describe a tropical thunderstorm over the sea – a pretty awesome spectacle, btw.
Animal and plant life will also feature heavily in a location such a Goa, be it stray dogs hunting for scraps among the litter bins or the colour of the butterfly flitting past you. Again, Google Images is a great help.
Something else to consider is sanitation – public amenities are not going to be to quite the same standard in rural India as in a modern European city… Nuff said!
This leads into elements such as environmental factors – in India you can’t drink the tap water because of pollution, and most people will drink bottled water. Which means India has a huge problem with plastic waste.
All these elements, and much more, will help you create a setting as true to the place as you can make it, without actually visiting. Obviously nothing beats the real-life experience where you can just soak up the atmosphere, however, this isn’t always possible. Some areas will be off-limits because they’re dangerous, others could be difficult and expensive to get to.
Which means that sometimes you have to make things up. Just remember to put that in your Author’s Note 🙂
Thanks so much for this, Henriette
I think I saw you …
It’s been twenty years, and Helen Stephens has come home to stay. And to get revenge on the person who murdered her mother. If only she knew who it was … But nothing is ever black or white, and when she rents a room in a house full of ex-offenders, the events of that fateful day blur even further, leading her to question her resolve and her memory.
Jason Moody, who runs the half-way house, has his own shame. When he uncovers her intent, he begins to suspect that someone close to him could be involved …
A coincidence? Or is there something else going on?
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Originally from Denmark, Henriette Gyland (who also writes as Ella Gyland) has lived in London for many years, surrounded by her family, cats, books and the Scandinavian hygge she tries to create everywhere she goes. As a linguist she loves playing with words and language, and she’s addicted to story-telling. She also believes strongly in social responsibility and sustainable living.
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One thought on “#GuestPost from Henriette Gyland @henrigyland #author of The Elephant Girl @rararesources”
I enjoyed this guest post! Thanks!
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