Part of what makes Jaspa’s Journey different from other children’s novels is the importance placed on the detail with which the background is portrayed. As such, the locations where the stories are set come close to being additional characters in their own right. So much so that Sue, Rich’s wife, calls the books ‘geographical fiction’ (as opposed to the more familiar genre of ‘historical fiction’). Whether this is a result of Rich’s scientific training, his desire to educate, or simply some sort of written OCD, is hard to say.
The majority of the places my friends and I go to in the books are real. Really real. So real, in fact, that if the reader were lucky enough to visit the locations, they would see them exactly as depicted in the stories. To give you an idea of just how much effort goes into recreating the real world in Jaspa’s Journey, here’s an example from The Pride of London:
There’s a point in our dash around Britain’s capital where my compatriots and I visit St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden (I hope that’s not giving too much away!). In early drafts of the book, Rich had us climbing up a set of stone steps to get to the church’s entrance. Although there are only four steps to negotiate, when you consider that Portia is the tallest of us and still less than four inches in height, these steps nevertheless presented a pretty tall order, if you’ll forgive the pun. However, on revisiting the location, we discovered something we’d missed the first time – a wheelchair ramp off to the side. This, of course, represented a much easier way for us to get up to the entrance. Consequently, in the final version of the story (which will be released as an ebook at the end of the month) the steps are out and the ramp is in.
But there can be drawbacks to being so particular.
This week, we’ve been working on Jaspa’s Waterloo, which is set on the famous battlefield in Belgium. Every five years a massive re-enactment of the battle occurs on the battlefield itself. We decided that this would provide an exciting backdrop for part of the story.
As it happens, Rich actually attended one of these re-enactments, back in 1995 (long before I met him). So you’d think he’d be all squared away with the particulars. But when you get right down to it, there are so many details that have disappeared into the fog of memories, so many mundane things not covered by photos focused on the action. The result is a multitude of unanswered questions, big and small, such as:
What time do the re-enactments begin and how long do they last? Are the re-enactments done as a series of set-pieces, or do they represent a condensed but non-stop portrayal of the whole battle? Where are the grandstands situated? What time do the spectators start arriving? Where are the parking lots? Just how big are the crowds? How long do the spectators and ‘soldiers’ hang around after the event? The list goes on.
Obviously, some of the answers can be found online or in books, but some details are just too obscure for anyone to mention.
Yet the problem remains: as far as the background is concerned, Rich hates just making it up!
Ultimately a compromise must be struck between the storyline as originally conceived and the information available. Sometimes this means the tale must be told from a different perspective or in a slightly different way, to get around any persisting gaps in knowledge.
In this way, Jaspa’s Journeys will continue to be faithful to the real world in which they are so firmly rooted.
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