This picture was borrowed from the Community Focus website, which operates out of Owen Sound and has a number of interesting pictures of the Bruce Peninsula. I recommend a visit. This picture is being used for a non-commercial purpose, by the way, and the website says that this is okay.
As we were driving back through Wiarton (pictured above and to the right), Erin asked me why I decided to set Rosemary and Time in a small town on the Bruce Peninsula. She was right to wonder. Some authors advise you to “write what you know”, to take your experience from the places you have lived in, and the people you have met. I’m like Peter: I was born in the centre of a big city, and haven’t lived outside of an urban area with 300000 people or more at any period in my life. What do I know about the lives of people in a small town? What business do I have writing about them?
And it’s not that Rosemary and Time calls for it. Fathom Five makes use of how awkward and isolated Peter feels, moving from the big city to the small town. Fathom Five makes use of the magical setting; the rugged junction between northern lake and ancient cliffs, with trees clinging precariously to the edge. Rosemary and Time gives only a perfunctury nod to Clarksbury before heading off to the Land of Fiction.
I could say that maybe I was writing Fathom Five at the back of my mind while starting Rosemary and Time, except that I wasn’t. I was going to write Peter and the Dragon, a story about Peter’s Chinese-great grandfather, until I decided that this tale wasn’t right for the Rosemary and Peter universe. The decision to head out of Toronto and into the rugged wilderness of the Bruce Peninsula happened at the beginning of Rosemary and Time, and despite all of my soul searching, the best explanation I can come up with is: it just felt right.
In writing, you’ve got to go with your gut. Perhaps I had Peter’s sense of isolation within a small town, and I used that to convey Rosemary’s sense of isolation from her peers. Or perhaps I wanted to remove the chatter (and the extraneous characters) of a large city. Or perhaps I was channelling Madeleine L’Engle more than I thought (A Wrinkle in Time is set far from any big city).
Whatever the case, this is how I saw it. I saw a fourteen-year-old girl, with glasses, walking through the snow-bound streets of a small town. The picture was that complete. I didn’t see streetcars or buses, nor did I see heavy traffic. I saw rugged cliffs surrounding the town, and barren trees clinging to the rocks. Sometimes a setting becomes an integral part of a character, even if you don’t know why.
But it shows that you don’t have to write what you know. With sufficient research and experience drawn from other quarters, you can still tell a good story. So what if my vision of Clarksbury bears a strong resemblance to Stratford? As long as the details ring true and contribute to the story, you’re doing fine.