As a fan of Regency historicals and English mysteries, the books I read tend to be set in and around the English countryside. Having been born and raised in suburban California, with cookie-cutter houses set side by side in uniform rows, it can be a little difficult for me to visualize some of those settings, especially for stories that rely on the layout of a house or village as a plot point.
Having spent a fair amount of time in London and slightly less time around Oxford and the Cotswolds, I can picture some things, but houses and estates and the like aren’t always clear to me, based on the author’s descriptions.
Fortunately, the internet has come to my rescue via the UK’s Country Life magazine. I’ve purchased electronic copies of the magazine from Amazon from time to time–always taken in by a great headline and cover photo, only to find myself wading through virtual page after page of real estate listings for properties far outside my purchasing power or interest, before getting to the actual articles I bought the magazine for.
Recently, however, posts from County Living have been popping up in my Facebook feed, so I’ve been clicking the links and giving the properties a closer look. The picture at the top of the post is a property that popped up a few days back and seemed to fit a description in the book I was reading to a T. Spatial visualization has never been my strong suit–which made geometry classes a real challenge many years ago–but the online listings that let me “virtually” walk through rooms are very helpful as I visualize how the book characters would move about the house (possibly ducking under some of those low ceilings).
The properties often crack me up though–not because of what they look like, but because of the amount of land and gardens and out-buildings that are often included in the listings. Coming from the land of the 1,200 square-foot house on about a 1/10th of acre lot, listings for 5,000+ square-foot houses on huge swaths of land that require a little map to show the full scope are a bit mind-boggling. I can’t help but think about the effort upkeep would entail (and cost).
Ignoring pesky details like that, the property photos have been very helpful as I try to understand why “the neighbor didn’t hear the cry for help” (they were several acres away) or exactly what that “former stable turned into an artist’s studio” might look like (dramatic). It’s also given me a feel for what it might be like to live in an area where there wasn’t a Starbucks right down the street or a bustling city center right across the highway.
I may be experiencing a bit of property envy.
Now that I have a better feel for what houses and settings might generally look like in the books I’m reading, I’m looking for houses and geographic settings to incorporate into my Regency romance that has been tucked away in a drawer since it was first completed.
Really, it’s not just an excuse to surf real estate websites.
So, has your writing research taken you down any entertaining paths lately?