Edinburgh - A Tale of Two Cities

One of the most important aspects of a story is its location. You may have a great plot with interesting characters but setting them in a vivid location can sometimes be just as crucial.

I’ve recently finished Mix Tape by Jane Sanderson and what makes her story so compelling is that its set across three distinct locations – 70s Sheffield, modern day Adelaide in South Australia and Edinburgh. It really helped bring the characters to life and there was strong connection between the traits of the characters and where they lived.

And my story, too, is set in Edinburgh. Two reasons. First, its such a brilliant and varied location with stunning scenery and moody landscapes. And secondly, it’s my home city. Writing about what you know is a key element to easy and successful writing. So, placing my characters in the city where I grew up was an obvious thing to do and really helped me shape the story. Parts of the setting are fictional – there is a Hope Street in Edinburgh but its nothing like the street in Let in the Light. My Hope Street was an amalgamation of a couple of streets – one in Stockbridge and one in York. Hope Street is also the name of a Levellers song and, as the story revolves so much around music and that the Levellers are my favourite band, it seemed an apt choice of street name. I’d also like to think that the story is one of hope and the ability to overcome our troubles.

Edinburgh offers so much in terms of scene settings. Not only does it stretch down to the coast, it rises up majestically in the form of Arthur’s Seat. From an early point in the story, I knew I wanted to set a pivotal scene on top of Arthur’s Seat – the hill that overlooks all of the city, across the water and beyond to the distant mountains. The city also has hundreds of great pubs, cafes and restaurants so again it was easy to feature some of them (real and fictional) in the story - including Shakespeares (no apostrophe!). How might the story have changed had Richie stayed there that night?!

Another interesting aspect of the location in Let in the Light is the connection to New Zealand and in particular, Dunedin. In my twenties, I was lucky to spend a few months travelling around New Zealand. It was then I learned that Dunedin, the second biggest city on the South Island, had these connections to Edinburgh. Dunedin means Edinburgh in Gaelic and you will find many of its street names are the same as those in Edinburgh. This connection allowed me to have some fun with the background of one of the main characters. When I knew that one of the characters was not from Edinburgh in Scotland, I quickly knew her origin would be Dunedin, New Zealand. This one element alone of the location helped form part of the story.

In many ways, choosing the right location for your story can inspire a plot line all by itself.