Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Landscape of Fantasy by Kathy Sharp

As part of the series of guest posts on book settings, on my blog today I feature an intriguing article by Kathy Sharp on how the Jurassic Coast of Dorset not only became a magical, fantasy world  in her novel "Isle of Larus", but even helped shaping the characters themselves.

Location is an important feature in any novel. It can set the atmosphere, add mystery, even have shock value. 
Not many stories can succeed without a sense of location. But what happens when the story is a fantasy – set in an imaginary landscape? How much is invented, and how much is borrowed from reality?

In my novel Isle of Larus the landscape takes on a major role in the story – almost a character in its own right. It was inspired by the Jurassic Coast of Dorset, where I live, and the Isle of Portland in particular. The isle in the story is by no means a portrait of Portland, but I did borrow freely from its appearance and atmosphere, from its seeming isolation, uncompromising ruggedness, and robust weather. Especially that robust weather!

I have observed Portland from all points up and down the Dorset coast, and I lived there, too, in one of its stone cottages, for some years. It looks remarkably remote, from a distance, considering it’s pretty firmly anchored to the mainland by the Chesil Beach. A proper little lost world. And that’s just what appealed to me as a writer: the contrast between this apparent far-off other world and the rather gritty reality of the isle when you are standing on it. It has a delicate magical resonance for such a dour place, and it was this I was trying to capture in my story.

The characters simply grew out of this strange landscape, the main ones began as personifications of places or buildings on Portland, so the connection is intimate, but not in any way factual. The ruinous Norman edifice Rufus Castle on the east cliff became Rufus the Hermit, ancient, crumbling, yet dignified; the Tudor Portland castle, in much better repair, became the very strait-laced Captain Castello, head of island security. St George’s church, like a tiny St Paul’s, became the Reverend Pontius, and the lighthouse at Portland Bill became Rissa the Ship Warden in her scarlet gown. I made these four characters the guardians of the isle, and sat back to see what they would do.

 Sea and sky, stone houses, old castles, churches and lighthouses were the raw materials of the tale. I simply let my imagination do the rest, and the Isle of Larus just shimmered into being – ‘mythical yet familiar’, as a kind friend put it. This is one story that wouldn’t exist at all without the landscape.


Growing up by the sea in Kent, back in the 1960s, it was Kathy’s ambition to become a writer. Time passed.
She married, moved to westLondon, and had a daughter. She continued to write, and had a small book or two on countryside and nature subjects published.  She worked for many years as a desktop publisher for Surrey County Council, and as a tutor in adult education.
And then, one day, she visited a friend who had just moved to the Isle of Portland, Dorset, and fell in love with the place. She has now lived in the Weymouth and Portland area for eight years, and still loves it. The wonderful Jurassic Coast, and Portland in particular, were the inspiration for her first novel, Isle of Larus.
Kathy also sings with, and writes lyrics for, the Island Voices Choir on Portland, and is a keen member of local writing groups, as well as enjoying studying the local flora. 

"Isle of Larus" is published by Crooked Cat Publishing and is available in paperback or e-book format at Amazon 

You can also read Kathy’s regular Monday blog on Goodreads 

Or find her on Facebook


 The calm before the storm.

The four guardians of the Isle of Larus have been enjoying quiet and comfortable lives, with nothing more than the occasional shipwreck to trouble them – but all that is about to change.

The Spirit of the Sea decides to send a series of alarming events to test and teach them, as well as providing himself with hours of entertainment at their expense.

For the first test, how will the guardians cope with the arrival of a fleet of completely impossible ships? Not too well at all, it would seem.

And that is just the beginning...

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