A Question For Readers
Recently someone asked me if my books were set in America, because she didn’t want to read anything that wasn’t set in places she couldn’t recognise and identify with. I had to admit that the Bryant & May books were mostly set in London. I can sympathise with this point of view. Comedians often use observational humour to get laughs. If I make a joke on Twitter about the difficulty of opening packets of biscuits, it will get more response than if I discussed visiting Iceland.
We live in a time when travel was never cheaper or easier. But it’s partly a generational mindset. Easyjet even termed its users ‘Generation Easyjet’. Now, as cruise companies unveil their largest-ever people carriers, some popular destinations in Europe have started voicing their concerns about their ability to absorb visitor numbers on such a vast scale. The cruise ship ‘Oasis Of The Seas’ is 40 per cent larger than any other vessel to ever dock in the UK, and has the capacity to house 5,400 passengers and 2,394 crew.
The sheer grind of ploughing through tourists in the summer isn’t something featured in vacation brochures. Certain museums and popular attractions are all but off-limits in the holiday season. But do we still enjoy reading about people in far-flung places when it’s now possible to go there?
In the last few years I’ve been stepping off the beaten track more and more. I still harbour a grudge after staying in what must be the only unpicturesque village in Provence, which had one tobacco-stained bar and a filthy cafe run by a fat bloke smoking roll-ups and wearing a stained wife-beater, but at least it was quiet. And it provided material to write about.
There are two ways of escaping the hordes – go somewhere well-known out of season (I spent Christmas Eve in Venice a few years ago and it was empty and beautiful) or visit a place you know little about. High on my list are Romania, Moldova, Slovakia, Slovenia, Norway, Belarus and Lithuania. I can safely skip any of the Stans for now, and I won’t go to Russia while it has anti-gay laws, but in January I’ll be back in the Baltic, this time to Estonia, where Tallin faces Helsinki.
We grew up being fed ignorant misinformation about other countries that levelled Borat’s. But for those who don’t travel much, the world is a confusing place. My New York copy editor just asked why I have a character in my book using his passport to get to Spain ‘when the British don’t need passports in Europe’. This is an understandable mistake, unlike the one made by the CNBC TV presenter who last week guffawed at the idea of Ireland using Euros, on an unfortunate clip that went viral.
So here’s my question; how much do readers mind reading about places abroad? The British have a long history of enjoying novels set in other countries. I have no idea how my Spain-set thriller ‘Nyctophobia’ is doing, and it concerns me because my next standalone novel is set much further afield.
So, do you prefer reading about home comforts, or are you happy with exploring other countries on the page? Let’s discuss.