As a writer of historical fiction, there is nothing more helpful than being able to experience the places you are writing about. Travelling to the cities and countryside where my characters would have lived or journeyed, helps me picture the sights, scents and sounds of my story. Being able to walk through buildings from the time is especially useful in plotting action. If I can see a floor plan in my mind, the action becomes more real. Of course, this isn’t always possible. But even getting close helps me enter the story world.
As I write my next novel, which is set partly in southern China and partly in Australia in the 19th century, I think back on my last trip to China and some of the buildings I visited. China is a very large and ancient country so its architecture varies greatly from place to place. Climate plays a large part in this. Traditional Chinese houses are often built around courtyards. In these houses, the open spaces are as important to the architecture as the built space. The cold climate in the north lends itself to large open courtyards, whereas in the sub-tropical climate of the south, the courtyards are smaller, sometimes only a sky well, depending upon the wealth of the owner. A smaller courtyard still lets in light, but keeps out more heat in the hot summer days.
As I write the scenes set in a wealthy landowner’s house, I like to look back on these photographs of a Scholar’s House in Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian province. The scholar’s house is situated in the historic Three Lanes and Seven Alleys area of old Fuzhou. Some of the buildings in this district date from the Tang Dynasty when the area was part of Luo city. The Three Lanes and Seven Alleys district was the birthplace of many famous politicians, generals, writers and poets.
I imagine my characters in a building like this and can envisage how the action would transpire and what the rooms would look like. In another I blog I will post photographs of a very old house we found in Fuqing, which helped me imagine the more modest houses that will feature in my next book.