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Guest post: Katharine Britton

June 10, 2011

Katharine Britton is the author of a new book that I’m excited about, Her Sister’s Shadow.   I was thrilled when she agreed to write a guest post for me and, as someone who has moved quite a bit, I appreciate what she has to say about place.

People and Places

I’m fascinated by the effect that places have on people. Landscape, culture, traditions… are all equally important to fictional characters. This place/character relationship is one of the things I enjoy most about reading southern novels, (maybe because I’m from New England). To Kill a Mockingbird gets top honors, but I also love the novels of Eudora Welty and, more recently The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. The sweet, heavy air, the drooping Spanish moss, the language, and the history… provide a uniquely southern setting that shapes these uniquely southern tales. The atmosphere that Harper Lee creates in To Kill a Mockingbird is so vivid I can easily picture myself sitting in a rocker on Atticus Finch’s front porch on a hot summer day, a tall glass of iced tea by my side, as Scout’s story unspools before me.

One can sit in a rocker on a porch in New England (where my novel, Her Sister’s Shadow, is set) and read in the summer just as easily, but one is very likely to be wearing fleece and sipping hot tea. The weather here is challenging and unpredictable. Scrub oaks and bittersweet have learned to adapt to coastal New England’s thin, salty soil, harsh winters, and constant breeze. So have its people. But it takes effort to put down roots in rock, and that effort sometimes shows. It’s not that New Englanders are unfriendly, we’re just self-sufficient and expect others to be the same. (It has been said of the residents of certain New England towns, “they will not ask why you’ve come, nor will they ask you back.”) Her Sister’s Shadow is a story of two sisters in late mid-life, estranged for forty years who reunite in their childhood home. Like the scrub oak and bittersweet, these two women, and this story, belong in New England. Were I to move them to Charleston or Atlanta, it would become a very different story. The social mores, the architecture, and the climate would all insist.

Places are important to people. So tell me, where is your story set? Where are your favorite novels set, and why? Writing is often a solitary endeavor, as is reading, but stories are meant to be shared, so please leave a comment below, if you’re so inclined. (And, if you read Her Sister’s Shadow, please get in touch and let me know what you think.) Thank you!

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Her Sister’s Shadow was published on June 7, 2011.  About the book:

An emotionally powerful debut about two sisters who reconnect after nearly forty years of estrangement.

Renowned painter Lilli Niles is at home in her North London flat when she receives an unexpected call from her elder sister, Bea, who’s at the family homestead in Whitehead, Massachusetts. Bea’s husband has just died, and she’d like Lilli to fly home to attend the funeral. There are reasons Lilli moved all the way to England to escape her older sister, reasons that have kept them estranged for decades. But something in Bea’s voice makes Lilli think it’s time to return to the stately house in New England she loved as a child, to the memory of the beloved younger sister they both lost. With Bea more fragile than Lilli remembered, maybe she can finally forgive Bea for a long-ago betrayal that has simmered between them for nearly forty years.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. June 10, 2011 5:50 am

    I am often drawn to a book just because of the setting — not necessarily because it’s a place I want to live or visit but because place can have such a strong effect on the story. I have added Her SIster’s Shadow to my list.

  2. June 10, 2011 8:09 am

    This post rings particularly true to me now as I am currently reading a book that I love, and a large part of the reason, is the setting (Southern); I love it when the setting becomes essentially another character in the book.
    I too, have added this book to my TBR list.
    Thanks for this great guest post 🙂

  3. June 10, 2011 8:38 am

    I love when the setting is done so well that it becomes another character in the story. I’ll have to check out HER SISTER’S SHADOW.

  4. Beth Hoffman permalink
    June 10, 2011 8:47 am

    I enjoyed this guest post very much and look forward to reading the book!

  5. June 10, 2011 8:49 am

    I don’t particularly look for books in certain place, but I often want to visit after I’ve read a book. Haven’t read this book yet, but soon.

  6. June 10, 2011 9:09 am

    I usually don’t focus on the setting unless it becomes central to the story such as Her Fearful Symmetry which made me want to visit London and the famous cemetary in particular.

  7. June 10, 2011 9:42 am

    This is a great post from Katharine Britton and I love her thoughts on setting. I think the setting of a book is so important. It seems to me that very often people don’t realize how important their own setting, the place they grew up and first started to become the person they are as an adult, is until they leave it and feel it pulling them home. Of course, sometimes it doesn’t happen this way but instead certain places repel us and in that way, direct somnewhere more suitable for who we are. This is why I cannot understand writers who dismiss setting & background as meaningless. Katharine’s thoughts in this post make me interested to see how the setting impacts Lilli and Bea. I love both London and New England and so I admit I’m already biased in favor of Her Sister’s Shadow!
    Thank you Katharine and Kathy for a great post!

  8. June 10, 2011 11:05 am

    I would have to agree about the atmosphere in Southern writing. That is one of the reasons I love to read it. I hadn’t heard of Her Sister’s Shadow, but it does sound like it bears some investigating. Especially since Katherine knows how important the ambiance of setting is. Great post today!

  9. June 10, 2011 11:55 am

    This book sounds great! Just reading about it makes me want to get a copy so that I can find out what happened between these two sisters to leave them so far apart from each other. Great post!

  10. June 10, 2011 12:35 pm

    The setting is one of the aspects of reading I enjoy so much. It’s a way of traveling to places I may never physically be able to go. When done well, I feel as if I’m really there. Lovely, well-written post – a nice taste of her writing. Now I have to read the book.

  11. June 10, 2011 1:07 pm

    Will definitely have to read, great post and the setting sounds really good.

  12. June 10, 2011 2:52 pm

    Although I’m partial to a few settings (the South, New England, Ireland) it’s really the story that must grab me first. I enjoyed the guest post and have added Her Sister’s Shadow to my list of books to read soon.

  13. June 10, 2011 3:05 pm

    Wow, what a great guest post….and the novel sounds good too. I really love books in which the setting becomes a character in itself, like with China in Lisa See’s novels, Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy. I think that’s fascinating.

  14. June 10, 2011 4:55 pm

    I am looking forward to reading this book.

  15. June 10, 2011 11:13 pm

    Yes! Setting can be a character (as Serena says), and it definitely can drive the story.

    I’d love to ask Katharine Britton about her choice to create a fictional town (Whitehead), that always interests me (“real” setting vs. the atmosphere of a setting)

  16. stacybuckeye permalink
    June 11, 2011 12:28 am

    Fun post! I love southern settings. I’ve lived most of my life in the midwest and short periods of time in LA & NYC. The furthest south was my 3 years spent in Arlington/Alexandria, Virginia. So, for me, cities in any area are appealing 🙂

  17. kaye permalink
    June 11, 2011 8:05 am

    Being a transplanted (and regretting that decision!) New Englander, I loved the sense of place in Her Sister’s Shadow. It made me more homesick than ever. Books set in coastal New England always grab my attention.

  18. June 11, 2011 6:51 pm

    You always open the reading world whenever I come here. I’m intrigued by the synopsis and the post gave me that extra push to add this book Her Sister’s Shadow to my list.

  19. June 12, 2011 8:04 pm

    I really enjoyed this guest post and I gravitate towards stories about sisters. Probably because I always wanted one!

  20. June 13, 2011 5:11 pm

    Great post. I’ve seen this book a few times today and it sure sounds like on I’d love to read!

  21. June 15, 2011 8:17 am

    Great guest post! I love southern novels too. The Help and To Kill a Mockingbird are among my favorites.

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