Researching a novel is a distracting business.

I’ve written in the past about some of the odd characters and events I’ve come to understand in greater detail as a consequence of the research I do for my writing, but in addition to the historic setting for my books I also, like many authors need to build a picture of the places in which my books are set.

View of the citadel in Port Calvi with the waters of the bay and birds in the foreground.

Port Calvi, Corsica

Now when it comes to picking the places in which my books are set there are a lot of things that go into the mix. Where the characters are starting off from, what kind of location I need them to be in next, and the type of transport or experience I want them to have on the way.

But then on top of that there are also the usual practicalities to consider:
– Variety, is the next scene sufficiently different to the last scene for it to be a memorable change in the mind of the reader, I don’t want to move the story from quaint old building to another quaint old building and then back again or the scenes are going to all start blurring together.

A rainy street scene from the film Blade Runner, with police car taking off or landing and road works in the foreground.

BladeRunner rainy street scene


– The action, is another important factor, if I want the good guys to see the bad guys coming from a long way off, then the scene needs to afford that kind of perspective.
Finally, there’s the spectacle of it. The settings I choose help to define the tone and the mood of my writing, the rain soaked streetscapes in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner conjures a mood of dark futuristic imperfection, in contrast the invariably brightly lit and airy locations used any Star Trek film which are used to emphasise the almost ideal society of the Federation.

In my own stories where I try to use the natural world to provide an allegorical counterpoint to the main plot, I rely equally upon my memories of places I’ve actually visited, and upon researching places which I’ve yet to visit.

I describe these places as yet to visit, because in the process of researching them it’s quite common for me to become entranced with what I’ve discovered and to start planning an immediate visit.

I’ve had a moment like this recently, in the draft I’m currently writing of my second Flames of Time novel, in which for reasons I won’t go into the characters in question need to leave Rome in a hurry on a boat, and then get out of Italian national waters before the coastguard or navy can lawfully detain them.

Now, at this point I could send the characters in any of dozen different directions, south to the Greek islands or the southern coast of the Mediterranean, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt. I could send them north to the glamourous and opulent cities of French Riviera, Monaco, Nice, Cannes, even as far as Marseilles. Or I could send them west toward the Spanish mainland handful of islands in between, Sardinia, Corsica, Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza.

Now, I don’t want the trip to be too long, because this is a part of the story where I want to keep the tempo up, so Sardinia or Corsica are the obvious contenders. Sardinia is governed by Italy, so that wouldn’t work. Corsica on the other hand, the land of Napoleon’s birth was bought from Italy by the French in the 1800s, so is obviously French territory and surrounded by French waters.

A bit of research later, and I discover the north west coast of Corsica is considered to be one of the most ruggedly picturesque spots along the Cote d’Azure, which in itself is obviously famed for the famous azure waters. Yes, it’s a little of the modern day tourist routes, but its largely unspoiled as a consequence, and an ideal naturalistic setting which would be a great contrast with the previous several chapters which have been set in the centre of Rome.

Rocky landscape of Corsica

Rugged landscape of Corsica


In plot terms it’s a perfect fit, in holiday terms. . . it’s going straight to the top of the list.