13 May 2013

Fantastic Settings & Real-Life Inspirations: Mariner

My novel, The Name and the Key, is set in a fictional universe that really is an echo of our own. I wanted the setting to be plausible and realistic for the reader in order to accomplish the suspension of disbelief integral to speculative fiction. I've taken inspiration from real-life places I've loved in order to create the world of The Name and the Key.


Mariner is the main setting in the novel where the protagonist Lily Camlo lives with her family.
The Lower Quarter faded into the dark rocky cliffs on which Mariner was built, as well as the ancient stone wall that surrounded the town for centuries. It was a strange, smoky smudge of a city...until you got to Highgate, that is. The streets criss-crossed each other as you climbed further up the wall of rock, and as soon as you passed through the barbican, you ended up on the white-stoned esplanade that circled the rosy-hued homes of Mariner's upper echelons.

The Lower Quarter 

South Street Seaport
Images from Wikimedia Commons (I, II)
I'm originally from Queens and am lucky to have spent so much time in NYC over the years. One of my favorite places to visit is the South Street Seaport. It's basically a little touristy spot, with shops and restaurants, which I don't really care about. I'm there for the history.

There's a unique buzz of life that I find permeates seaports and coastal towns, and I'm sure the ocean plays a major part of it. But there's something about older buildings and great ships against the lovely background of the sea that gets me in the heart every time. I LOVE places like this.

So it's only natural that Mariner would take a good deal of influence from South Street Seaport. The larger ships are docked here (clipper ships, schooners, sloops, etc.) which has helped me visualize the kind of ships that are mentioned in the novel: the Djullanar, a two-masted schooner, Derceto, a frigate, and the Atargatis, a three-masted schooner.

The historical buildings at South Street Seaport, now filled with higher-end shops and boutiques, have shaped how I imagine the layout and construction of the shops in Mariner. In the book, the rows of shops face the ocean and piers directly, as opposed to a side street like the one shown in the photo.

The color scheme for the buildings of the lower quarter came to me from Tenby, Wales (Dinbych-y-Pysgod for all my lovely Welsh speakers out there). I proudly lived in Wales for a term at university and visited all over the country and nearby England. Tenby was one of my favorite places to visit--I think I stayed there three times at least--so the majority of my inspiration for Mariner comes from Tenby.

Old Stables off of Julian Street, Tenby.
(cc) by Ray Jones
There are little spots in Tenby where the stone is colored with green doors or green shutters. I never made it to the stables near Julian Street, but noticed the color scheme for the first time walking along the stone walls. My friend and I found a round door we lovingly called "The Hobbit Hole" and later found out on a ghost tour that it's the door to the old town mortuary and the area on the walkway leading to it are the Dead House Steps. Nice.

The Lower Quarter color scheme is nothing but dark stone (closer to the slate houses in Blaenau Ffestiniog)  and green doors and window shutters. All of the buildings of the Lower Quarter are connected like row houses and are identical to each other.

Tudor Merchant House, Tenby
Image (cc) Robert Edwards
In my book, Lily and her family live in a merchant house with a store that takes up a little more than half of the first floor. The inspiration for their home came from a visit to Tenby's Tudor Merchant House. When my mother visited me in Wales during my spring break, I took her to Tenby, and she chose the Merchant House as one of the places we should visit while she was there. The three-story house dates from the 15th century (!!) and is an example of the type of living space a merchant during the Tudor period could afford.

My book doesn't outwardly state the time period, but it is modelled after the Regency period in England, so any historical clues I drop point to that era. Even though the Tudor Merchant House would be far too ancient dwelling for Lily and her family, in my mind only the exterior of the building resembled the Tudor Merchant House. The inside would be much newer and larger, closer to something from the first decade of the 19th century.

The photo of the Tudor Merchant House is more like the back end of Lily's home. The rear entrance would lead straight into the kitchen, and a set of stairs just outside of it would lead to the second floor, where Lily's father Kale and her grandmother Viollca would have rooms. Lily and her sister Laney would live on the third floor in their own rooms, and each floor would have their own bath.

Rose & Co. Apothecary
Image (cc) Betty Longbottom
The front of the house would face the pier and the sea, and would also house the family's shop, Bellamy Mercantile. The store has a little bit of everything in terms of material goods, but the family prospers the most from the sale of silk for the Season, the peak time for tourism in Mariner.  During the Season, many parties, dances, and concerts are held, the most fashionable being held at Highgate. Everyone is expected to wear new clothes for the balls during the Season, so Bellamy Mercantile sells silk for gowns.

The storefront for the Rose & Co . Apothecary is one place in this post I actually haven't been to, but it's the best example of what the Bellamy Mercantile storefront would look like. The Rose & Co. Apothecary is located in Bradford, England. Sadly, I never made it anywhere near these places when I went abroad, but thanks to the goodness of Wikimedia Commons, I was able to locate a photo that best resembles the Bellamy Mercantile I see in my head.


Tenby also serves as a major influence for Highgate, the upper half of Mariner where the rich live. References in the book to an ancient wall that surrounds the city, the barbican, and the esplanade, all come from Tenby.
Images from Wikimedia Commons
Just like Tenby, Mariner is built on rocks and cliffs high above the sea. But in the novel, Mariner is one of the largest cities in the country, so the land mass upon which the city is built is substantially bigger and taller, with more structures and ships than any photo of Tenby could depict. Tenby's population is around 5,000, while the fictional city of Mariner has a population of about 100,000, comparable to the population of London in 1801.

The Holburne Museum, Bath
Image (cc) by 126 Club 
Moving from the Lower Quarter and up into Highgate makes for a somewhat significant climb up the hill via narrow winding streets.  The area is gated once the esplanade is reached. The barbican gate must be crossed to get into Highgate, and then the architecture significantly changes. The streets are of white stone, and the buildings are predominantly pastels, mostly rose-colored.

Highgate's buildings resembles the Georgian architecture of Bath, England, which I visited when I lived overseas.  What a great city! For those who read Jane Austen, Bath was the hot-to-trot place to visit during the time period, and her books reference the city often.

I stayed mostly in the historic parts of Bath, near the cathedral and the old Roman baths and the Assembly Rooms, so I didn't make it to a place like the Holburne Museum. Nonetheless, this photo is a perfect example of the Georgian architecture that comprises the fictional area of Highgate. Plus, this was the pinkest-looking building I could find (although I think when you enlarge it the color looks a bit more golden) out of all the photos of Bath I looked at.


Stay tuned for our next feature, which discusses another important setting in The Name and the Key: Rookwood, and its real-life counterparts!

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