Mar 18, 2010

Fabulous Settings

What I’m Reading: What the Librarian Did

What I’m Listening to: Chainsaws! They are chopping forests next door. Sigh

What I’m Watching: Grand Designs Revisited

What makes me smile: my dh’s fantastic coffee.

I’ve just settled into reading Karina Bliss’s What the Librarian Did and am struck by how good it is to have an Auckland setting (almost Northland!). For me, as I'm sure it is for you, the setting plays a big part in whether I want to read the book or not. Of course there are the sure fire winners: Italy, Greece, France, Scotland. London - especially if it’s an historical. But what part of our psyche does setting key into? Escape? I loved Susan Elizabeth Phillips Breathing Room as much for the vividly described Italian location as for the wonderful characters. Yet here I am, sighing with pleasure to have a very familiar Auckland setting.

My novel Tempting the Negotiator is set in my beloved Northland, though the actual places are invented. I cannot think of a more idyllic place. You see, I grew up in Africa. Big empty plains, long brown grass, bright blue, empty skies. The ocean one day’s drive East through Mozambique or three days drive down through South Africa. Don’t get me wrong, Africa has its own beauty but I grew up looking at calendar photos of New Zealand, wondering how on earth they could mow all the hills to look so good!

Where I live is a little bit wild, with shaggy mountains, lush forests and the most spectacular beaches and bays. I still wake up some mornings and have to pinch myself because it feels like I’m living in Jigsaw-puzzle Land. Every bend in the road driving to work is a photo opportunity. Which is why there are always big companies coming with ideas to build flash resorts around Northland and why locals always vigorously oppose them.

I could no more resist setting my novel here, than I could resist having a world class surfer as the hero. Surfing has got to be one of the most joyous and free sports ever invented and I had enormous fun researching recklessly crazy big wave surfers who dice with death every ride. Throw in a NY lawyer - a treadmill runner no less - out to take this all away from him and the story takes off. Check out the cover to your right. Doesn’t it capture summer sizzle to perfection?

Other settings I’ve enjoyed in books? Sweden in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Nora Roberts Chesapeake Bay series, Scotland in Diana Gabaldon’s books, Botswana in the No. 1 Lady Detective series – I could go on for quite a while here.

Please share some of the settings you’ve found most evocative and be in to win a free copy of my book.


  1. Zana,
    you've lived in some beautiful countries, all fantastic fodder for your books!!
    I think settings intertwine a lot with our characters, making them who they are.
    I probably enjoy Australian settings the most, but love settings completely from the imagination of an author =)

  2. I love rural settings! And one of my favourite keeper books is a Nora Roberts - The Last Honest Woman. It's set on a rundown horse stud. And actually her Montana Sky is another fav because the setting really grabs me!

    And as an expat Kiwi, I know I'm going to love Tempting the Negotiator's setting because I love Northland too! A girlfriend and I spent three weeks travelling north of Auckland and camping in a grotty little canvas tent that had no water-proofing worth mentioning - this was so many years ago now that I'm not going to name a figure! It was magic!

    I'm counting the days until you're on the shelf DownUnder, Zana.

  3. Mel, one of the books I read when I was a kid was set in the Australian outback. I still remember how they had to make their beds with wet sheets to be cool when going to bed. Hotter than my part of Africa! I agree, Aussie backgrounds are fabulous. I loved writing an Aus historical.

  4. I don't know that Nora Roberts, Sharon but I'll look out for it. She really does have a knack of making a place come alive. That relentless sun in her JD Robb books....
    As to waterproofing - I know you won't believe this but Northland is in a drought. I've NEVER seen that before!

  5. Zana, that's really hard - because in a good book you are bound to fall in love with the setting as much as the characters. My travel wish list is mostly made up of places I've read about: Ireland - Nora Roberts, Corfu - Gerald Durrell, Swiss Alps - Heidi (yes, it's been on my list for a looong time). But if I had to pick, it would be James Herriot's Yorkshire. His personal love of the countryside and people flows out of the pages and you have no choice but to fall in love with it to.

  6. Oh Anita

    Yes, yes and yes to all your preferred settings. I'd forgotten Corfu and Switzerland. Corfu especially. I also fell in love with Cyprus when reading Laurence Durrell's Bitter Lemons. When my friends went last year, I was so excited for them - and then they didn't like it! I had to realise I'd fallen in love with a country that was 50 years earlier. Alas. (still want to go, though!)

  7. I would agree that Nora really does do tremendous settings, especially the coastal ones like the Donovan Series (Monterey) and the Calhouns (East Coast USA). She really makes you want to go there. And Essie Summers' high country settings were as much a part of her work as the characters. I read that her overseas readers used to plan their trips to NZ around seeing those places she would write about. But I'm not a traveller, so I'd say anywhere in NZ is pretty amazing.

  8. I love a good setting in a book! I love visiting 'exotic' places - like Regency Egypt in Loretta Chase's "Mr Impossible", and the southern American settings in Susan Elizabeth Phillips's "Heaven, Texas" and "Natural Born Charmer".

    I also love totally made up settings like the stunning fantasy world our own Emily created in "Thief With No Shadow" (and a dog who can talk doesn't hurt, either).

    Looking forward to reading "Tempting The Negotiator", Zana!

  9. I fell in love with Africa through the eyes of Wilbur Smith at the age of 18. Of course it is a romantised version of the countries but hey, it was evokative. I have always been drawn to the african continent as a whole.

  10. Tracey, it was the story of Elsa the lioness by Joy Adamson, Gerald Durrell's tales and The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley that captured Africa for me.

  11. Zana,

    Tempting the Negotiator sounds like my kind of book. Congratulations on your continued success.

    Natalie Acres

  12. Thank you all for your comments. How fascinating that Africa should hold appeal for you both, Tracey and Anita. I never think of Africa as being cool. When it's home, you don't really see the exotic attraction, I guess! However, I've just finished a book by Bookey Peek set in Zimbabwe which I loved.

    Jo, I've a terrible confession - I've never read Essie but a friend has just given me one of her books and I'm looking forward to reading the legend.

    I haven't read Loretta Chase either but I do love Elizabeth Peters' Miss Peabody series. I agree, Rach, Em did a fab job with Thief with No Shadow.

    The great thing about blogging is now I have all these new books I want to read! Thanks guys!