I much enjoyed the first episode of ‘Town’ with Nicholas Crane. I appreciated how he used the history and geography of Ludlow to deepen our understanding of its current success. For me, any book is better with a sense of the history and geography of its setting. I love books with maps and chronologies. I want to believe there were reasons the first settlers chose that spot, and places where decisive battles took place or people worshipped – no matter how imaginary the setting.
But I also appreciated how he looked at the council estate and the amateur boxing club as well as the listed buildings and farmers’ markets. He didn’t just stick to niceness and Michelin starred restaurants, nor was he condescending. He gave a good ( if a little short) portrait of the difficulties and vigour of life on the ‘wrong side of the tracks’.
Today I went to Emsworth. This is a not-dissimilar town in Hampshire. Here the ‘other sort’ live on the opposite side of the by-pass. In the main town, the plummy ones hang round outside artisan bakeries and the tattooed people come through the underpass to investigate the charity shops. Wandering about waiting for my bus and observing made me think how a writer could use this. I came up with one thought.
Drop your characters in it.
Stick’em in the wrong milieu. On one hand, you could end up with some strong plot drivers. They experience life on the other side – does it lead to fear and panic; embarrassment and humour; class-hatred and slow-brewing revenge, or envy and aspiration?
On the other, you could reveal character. How do they react to other social conventions; are they ready to adapt or condemn? And how do people from another social class see them? All very indicative – without you ‘telling’ a thing.
You could do both.
Not to mention the dimensions of time and space you could play with. Lots of fun to be had in town.