My favourite escape fantasy, as you might have guessed, is living in New Orleans, which I’m able to sate, in a way, by writing this blog (and by reading about the city – see picture). But as I write it, I often think: do you need to live somewhere to write about it properly?
It’s a question I often consider, and it’s one that has come up in a writing group that I’m a member of. One person in the group has developed a compulsion to write about Missouri, even though she’s never lived there or even been there, and we were talking about whether she could seriously do so, either from a practical or a moral perspective.
We talked a little about Stef Penney, who wrote bestselling novel about nineteenth-century Canada The Tenderness of Wolves without ever having visited the country. We decide that probably to write pieces of work with a strong sense of place, some first-hand experience, preferably from more than a holiday, is needed.
But then again, Penney never visited the nineteenth century either, and we don’t question the validity of historical novels because the authors don’t have access to a time machine.
Maybe it’s all about perspective and presentation. The historical novel is an art form we accept as necessarily artificial, as one that gives us a window into another world that is limited and flawed, but better than no window at all, and which has the present world the author and readers live in as an interesting visible or invisible framing device.
Along the same lines, a solution that was suggested for the wannabe Missouri novelist was to write about Missouri from the perspective of a British woman visiting the state for the first time, thus acknowledging and using her lack of on-the-ground familiarity.
I think about this blog in a similar way. I would always pitch myself as an insider in London and an outsider in New Orleans and that, for better or worse, is the perspective I write from and makes the blog what it is.
I’ll go further. This perspective is the impetus behind the blog. As I’ve said already, the fact that I live in London and don’t live in New Orleans makes me want to write here in London about being in New Orleans. If I did leave London to live there, I wouldn’t write about New Orleans in quite the same way.