The importance of being there

Comments made by Marcel Berlins in The Guardian echo about how he feels short-changed by writers, Stef Penney the Costa winner his reference point, who do not travel to the countries they set their stories in.

“As a reader, I feel short-changed and disappointed. When place plays an important part in a story, I expect the writer to have been there.”

His comments echoes thoughts I have already expressed about the concern you get when you read a book based in a foreign country and discover the writer has never set foot in it.

I think it matters because of the danger of basing your own vision of a place on someone else’s experiences. For many years I was desperate to go to Russia after having read so many books about it both fiction and non-fiction. But once I arrived there it was different not because the Hermitage looked any different from the pictures in books but because of the way being there made me feel. Bearing in mind that writers often put parts of themselves into characters by avoiding the assault ion the senses and preconceptions that comes from visiting in the flesh you miss that and it can only filter through to the text.

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