I live in a small sleepy town called Hespeler in Southern Ontario. Or technically, because it’s been amalgamated into the city of Cambridge, which is made up of the combination of the smaller communities of Galt, Preston, and Hespeler, is considered a big bustling city. But despite its moniker as a city, Hespeler is unique in that it has retained its village-type atmosphere: small shops, a quaint main street, and people who know one another.
In some ways, it’s good that I live in a peaceful place where life is ordinary and one could yawn from things being so uneventful day-to-day. I’ve also somehow managed, despite living a quiet life in a quiet town, to have written and published four mystery thrillers.
How have I done this? Imagination.
I’ve learned that I don’t need to have a difficult daily life where I’m battling circumstances in order to be able to write. Instead, the quiet same-old same-old gives my imagination room to flourish. Each day, my thoughts erupt into the chaos that unfolds in the pages of my stories. My readers have asked me what makes me write about faraway lands or unusual or violent characters. I think my real-life setting has a lot do with it. My curiosity has room to go to town (albeit someone else’s!)
My first four novels are set in the far-away and interesting locations of Southern France, Iceland, New York City, and on a fictional Canadian west coast island. Not only do I use these far-flung settings for my books, but I make dark and dangerous things happen in them. Perhaps because I have a view from my writing desk of my garden, which is snow-covered in winter and home to a family of cardinals, and awash with color in summer when the flowers sweetly wave in the breeze. Granted this peaceful scene, I’m free to mentally roam and make waves, create danger, intrigue, and crime and do it in places that are loud, noisy, and full of humans doing things: good, bad, and very bad.
In recent years, Cambridge’s quaint buildings, river, and overall cute atmosphere have been featured in numerous film and TV shows: Murdock Mysteries, Handmaids Tale, October Faction, Reicher among others. The river with its iconic bridges and heritage buildings add historic authenticity to stories but are neutral enough so the stories can turn the landscape into a unique character all of its own.
I’ve been thinking that if film producers see the potential in characters having room to be unpredictable in a predictable landscape, then it’s time for me to write about my little village for the first time but in a way that puts it to the test: an alien invasion.
Rather than take my next project elsewhere, I’m ready to write close to home. I’m curious to see if I can take my sleepy village and turn it into a place worthy of unsuspected situations that present unknown danger to the community.
I’m used to creating complex plots in places where lots happens; now I’m faced with creating complex plots in a place where virtually nothing happens. It’s not easy to come up with an unreliable situation in a stable and predictable place and make it viable. Also I have to wonder whether the locals will be upset by a disturbing premise that rebrands the image of our charming hometown.
Only one way to find out, I suppose.
I’ve decided to stretch the story possibility by introducing the premise of an extra-terrestrial visitation. These immortal beings (and unusual and potentially violent characters) are discovered by long-time locals. It’s farfetched, but fiction is designed for such explorations, and the writer’s job is to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. My working title is Unseemly Visitors. I have faith in the elasticity of my imagination. I’ll stretch it to the limit and see what happens.
Yet believability might be a challenge with this story premise. The other-worldly characters should be human-like but unique in character and abilities. I don’t envision War of the Worlds chaos; instead, I’ll create tension and conflict from the authorities and locals having suspicions but no one wanting to believe the truth (Let’s face it: if you approached the police with a tale of bounty hunters from outer space, they might have reason not to believe you, or, more likely, they might not want to believe you.) So, without the law involved, the characters will have to solve this deadly dilemma all on their own.
One of the traits commonly attributed to small town folk is meddlesomeness or being aware of their neighbours’ comings and goings. This makes for tighter-knit communities when people know each other’s business. But now there will be secrets, fear, scrutiny, and suspicion: all rich territory for creating interesting complications. I’m looking forward to creating behind-the-scenes chaos. My gentle little hometown won’t know what hit it.
When last I looked, there were no spies, treacherous villains, or aliens wandering around Hespeler’s downtown core or skulking about the neighbourhoods. But soon- in my mind- they will.
Shaking up the reality of the real world is what writers do, and enjoying seeing the real world shaken up is entertaining to readers. Audiences love sci-fi and thrillers, so I’m doing both. (Could make for a good Netflix series- who knows; perhaps this will be the next thing to be filmed in Hespeler?)
I am Marianne Scott, an author who is writing a sci-fi thriller.