What does it mean to set a fictional story in a real place?
Hobart does have a Handmark Gallery and a Hill Street Grocer, a Blinking Billy and a Cascade Road and a casino. There is a Chalet on the Organ Pipes Track, and there are falls of dolomite rocks scattered with silvered logs.
But there is no Illumin Gallery in Brooke Street. There is no Merchant’s Cafe, and no empty haberdasher’s in New Town Road. There is no ruined barn on the northern edge of Campania. There isn’t even a Slipping Place.
What is going on here?
When Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Baker Street, London did not have a 221B. But readers found this hard to accept. Mail was addressed to Sherlock at this address. Eventually the address was created. Today it houses a museum and receives Sherlock’s mail.
As with characters and events, settings in fiction are made up. The aim is to make them feel real.
This was Hobart striving to be international – all yachts and aluminium and plate glass and prize-winning pinot gris, with clean silver light, and wharves and jetties hiding the real coastline, and holding the whole thing up off the mud.
For me Hobart, this glorious and complex city, forms part of the heart and soul of The Slipping Place. In a way writing the novel was a labour of love and of exile. I took pains to capture Hobart’s light and landforms, the weather and the air. I also tried to stay true to the layout of the town (except for one spectacular and ridiculous geographical error – more about that in later posts).
(In fact I hope there aren’t more errors. Geography has never been my strong point.)
But at the detailed level, the level of homes and buildings and shops, none of the novel’s settings actually exist.
It became apparent to me years ago that, while it’s fine, in fact it’s important, to name areas and streets and to describe them as accurately as possible, an author of fiction can’t really name people’s homes or small businesses. (The references to Handmark and Hill Street are glancing, and they were kind enough to give me permission.)
Maybe, in later posts I’ll describe some of the inspirations for the different settings.