Yesterday I read a passage in an essay by Barbara Kingsolver that I’d like to share, since it got me thinking about writing about place:
Several summers ago on a cabin porch, surrounded by summertime yard sales and tobacco auctions, I wrote about Africa . . . I wrote long and hard and well until I ended each day panting and exhilerated, like a marathon runner. I wrote about a faraway place that I once knew well, long ago, and I have visted more recently on research trips, and whose history and particulars I read about in books until I dreamed in the language of elephants. I didn’t need to be in Africa as I wrote that book . . .
Barbara Kingsolver, ” Knowing our place” in Small wonder, Faber and Faber, 2002
How important is it to visit the places you write about? Is reading about a place enough to give you a good feel for it? Can you recreate atmosphere from a book? If you’ve never been to France or Persia, can you write confidently and convincingly about them?