A Sense of Place

iron age round houseI was invited to a meeting at a neighbour’s house this week.  I went, partly, because I’m nosy.  It’s a big house, a designer construction, with high glass walls held up by steel RSJs (pillars).  It was the sort of building project that gets followed on TV design programmes, and starts people writing to their local paper with questions about whether it’s suitable for it’s location.

How do you live in a house with no blinds or curtains?  That’s what I’ve asked myself each time I passed it, especially at night, when the interior is lit.

A lot of us must be fascinated by house interiors, there’s so much of it in the media.  That kind of thing is meant to be aspirational, I suppose.  Being more of a muddler, when I flick through those magazines in waiting rooms, I like to imagine the householder dashing about gathering up and rearranging their belongings before the camera arrives, than to believe in either the immaculately clear surfaces or the artistically displayed clutter.

Pieter Janssens Elinga, Perspective Box.  1660 - 1680

Pieter Janssens Elinga,
Perspective Box. 1660 – 1680

Here’s the question I’ve been asking myself since my visit to the neighbour’s though, Isn’t where we live as significant an indicator of personality as the clothes we wear?

Okay, so most of us probably will never have a chance to express ourselves in such solid terms as my neighbour, but we all occupy a space somewhere.  How much of our lives we devote to our surroundings is one part of our stories.  What we do or don’t do to the fabric of our homes is another, whether that is in terms of cleaning, repair, decoration or even shifting furniture around.

We might not all realise it, but our homes are a tangible indication of our personality.  It’s all too easy to brush over this detail, and yet for most of us, mortgage or rent is a defining aspect of our lives.  It can dictate what we do for a living, and what we don’t do, especially with a recession on.  High-rise, semi, designer, bedsit or mobile home, these aspects too can be defining characteristics.  Do we conform to expectations, or not?

116So here’s a question to my fellow writers, when we’re writing about a character, do we think about where and how they are living?

I’m not advocating a broad digression  from your story with this.  Probably the facts won’t even make it into your final draft, but I were to ask you why your character lives where or as they do, could you tell me?

As for my neighbour’s decor, it was, of course, nothing like I expected.  I think I’d have been disappointed if it had been, after all, she’s not the character I’ve written into her house.