Thursday 23 July 2015

Setting the Scene with Sarah Benwell

I've been waiting quite a while to get the following author on the blog; in fact ever since her debut novel came out in January. Finally I managed to convince Sarah Benwell to come on and talk about the beautiful settings that she used for her book, The Last Leaves Falling. You can read my review here.
The Last Leaves Falling is a set in a place of contrasts – industrial cities, and countryside; technology and tradition: Japan.

Japan is cool, right? Totally badass and mystical and full of the crazy-but-wonderful? But it’s also, like, people’s home. Ordinary people, who live ordinary lives not so fundamentally different from our own. And with a Japanese protagonist, I got to play with that rather than the tourist’s view. I got to describe my character’s bedroom and his grandparents’ house, the local park. The food he eats. The things he thinks about, and the things that he believes.

I spent a long time in the book online, and got to explore that space, too.

But for me, the setting in Last Leaves does more than let the reader walk through Kyoto streets. There are places in my book which are there to illustrate a mood, a feeling, a moment in time expanding out across other moments to make something bigger. I think this may be a Japanese thing – the setting equivalent of a haiku, or a series of them, strung together, each one changing the next one, just a little bit.

There’s the hospital: a maze of corridors, white walls and people-smells, where Sora feels hemmed in. Sometimes, this is exactly what he needs – it keeps him from spiralling off into despair. Sometimes it feels wrong.

There’s the Imperial Park: green, wide, open spaces, colour-changing trees, the sky. This serene, beautiful space is an escape. It’s freedom. It’s also the ground for watching the seasons change – both a Japanese obsession and a perfect miniature for Sora’s journey.

The bridge inside the park, over the koi pond, bridges Sora’s past and future. It’s a space where time can stop, just briefly, and everyone can breathe. It’s a place where they can stand together, in the middle of the bridge, grab those moments, and not – just yet – have to cross to the other side.

His grandparents’ house, out in the Kyoto provinces, embraces nature and tradition. It’s the place where all of Sora’s stories live. All of the magic and myth of growing up. It’s a place of tree climbing and mountains, a place of togetherness and love. It’s safe and warm and nothing ever changes.

And then there’s Sora’s room, so ordinary, but so much happens here. It’s his space. It mirrors him, and how he feels about his life. There’s an early scene where his room feels too small and inadequate and everything comes under scrutiny. But as the novel progresses, that changes, until the last scenes in his room, there’s nothing but comfort and love. 

Setting is the foundation for any story – it’s the world in which our characters and stories live. Sometimes it adds colour, flavour, a base coat for the truly important things. Sometimes, a street is just a street, a meal is nothing but something to fill the empty belly of a character. But sometimes, setting morphs into a character or symbol of its own: sometimes it means something more.
Japanese teenager, Sora, is diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). Lonely and isolated, Sora turns to the ancient wisdom of the samurai for guidance and comfort. But he also finds hope in the present; through the internet he finds friends that see him, not just his illness. This is a story of friendship and acceptance, and testing strength in an uncertain future.
About the author.
Sarah Benwell lives in the picturesque city of Bath. Which is nice, but she’d much rather be off exploring deserts and jungles elsewhere. Having seen a good chunk of the world, Sarah is a keen advocate for diversity in life and on bookshelves, and she loves nothing more than acquainting herself with both.
To find out more about Sarah Benwell:

1 comment:

  1. Such a gorgeous book and so lovely to hear more from Sarah about setting! Great post!


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