Google Maps has changed my life. Travel before Google Maps involved a massive fold-out map from a tourist office and, when a bus was involved, terror of missing the stop. Getting lost is a thing of the past. I got myself home from the hostel pub crawl last night without even needing to stop and look like a tourist alone late at night. My most common search ‘supermarket’ solves a multitude of problems. ‘Toilet’ didn’t turn up so many results, unfortunately. But I saw an interesting square on the map, found a fabulous churreria (with a toilet) and got coffee and churros as well. Thanks Google.
Google Maps has also changed my professional life. I can check the accuracy of my characters’ travels in an instant and get inspiration by looking at a map of the place they live or are visiting. If I haven’t been somewhere myself, then there’s streetview and photos and I almost don’t need to go in person. Almost.
But I have to say there has been a lot about Seville and the suburban west that I couldn’t have got from Google. The jacarandas, plane trees, palms and cypress trees. The blooming bushes. The tiled detail of people’s entryways. Old men in hats and suit jackets and dress-up old ladies. Children playing wild soccer on the square and riding all forms of scooters and bikes. Children sitting outside churches in their tiny suits and buckled shoes. Boy baby clothes that are just as decorative as the ones for girls, except blue. The peeling wooden doors and windows with cast iron grilles and the intense red earth (with occasional outcroppings of sandstone as I got further out of town.
The details inspire me, which is strange, because I’m extremely sparing with my descriptions. I quickly lose interest if a description I’m reading is too long. I struggle to slip in atmosphere or description on purpose. It has to just flow or I don’t bother. So why do I get goosebumps and ideas flow madly when I visit a new place?
It’s about the action. The shop windows have inspired a whole set of scenes about Tess being included in the family and dressing up for the grandmother’s birthday party. This was a ‘click’ moment for me. I was feeling that the time in Spain was critical for both of them in their processes of coming to terms with who they are and what they want to do. Tess has always felt out of place in princess-y dresses. But she’s going to feel amazing in a flamenco-style dress (still working on the details) with the help of Diego’s mother.
Visiting the town where Diego grew up has painted a clearer backstory for him, where he went to a private school because his father was rich, but he always wanted to go to the local school and hang out with the other kids – it was the beginning of his feeling of being excluded.
There will definitely be some descriptions of olive trees when Tess first arrives. But the more interesting stuff to come out of the research is the scenes that make use of the setting, not the ones that describe it.