Three countries I’d like to set a book in

Bird statues next to Charles Bridge in Prague

Our mutual love for travel and books were the two things that brought me and my husband together. We both had literature degrees (I’m an American with a degree in British lit; he’s a Brit with a degree in American lit) and our love of language and adventure led us both to teach English in Prague, where we met.

So it’s no wonder that one of my favorite things to do when starting to write a new novel is deciding on where to set it.

Sometimes the setting is immediately part of the story. The plot of the manuscript I’m revising, All Things Easy, sprang into my head one night as I was thinking about uncomfortable things I witnessed as a child in the small town my uncle lived in in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in California.

But more often I come up with a plot that could happen almost anywhere and I have to figure out the best place for the action to happen. This usually involves a trip to the library and a dozen Lonely Planets – or, as I think of them, travel porn.

Here are three countries I’d love to set a book in:


This is a bit of a cheat, because I actually am writing a novel set partly in Bosnia. My husband and I are going there later this spring so I can gather some research. The war was one of the first I remember seeing on TV. It happened just as I was becoming more aware of world affairs, and I remember being distraught by some of the images I saw and stories I heard. This new manuscript I’m writing required a place that’s still recovering from war, particularly a war where civilian women were directly targeted.

It won’t be the cheeriest of books.

South Africa

I’ve wanted to go to South Africa for a long time. One of the novels I plan to write needs to be set in a country with close historical ties to Britain, that’s susceptible to natural disasters, that is rugby mad, and has areas of outstanding beauty. Australia’s too far away. Time to save up some money…


Himeji castle
Himeji castle

My husband and I visited Japan in November, and one of my favorite experiences was taking a tour around a castle and learning about life in feudal Japan. I took roughly 500 photos and had ideas for two novels. I’d love to do more research into feudal Japan, but these are books I’ll probably never write unless I spend a few years living in Japan. I’m not familiar enough with the culture and I’m wary of creating protagonists whose culture I don’t understand well. There are so many cultural nuances that influence behavior, and I’d hate to get it wrong.

Instead, I’ll give you this photo of part of the castle. This is actually one of the storehouses, since the main castle building is under renovation.

What three countries would you like to set a story in? Have you written novels set in a country you don’t live in? Were you able to visit them for research?


  1. Ooh, fun topic! I’d love to set a book in Venice, Italy–I’ve been twice, both times during Carnivale, and what an amazing city! Second choice would probably be Austria, either in Salzburg or Innsbruck (or both), again because I love it so much and the people are so awesome. Third, although it’s U.S., Alaska–and it’s sort of a cheat too because I’ve got at least an idea down for this one!

    1. Fantastic choices, Suz! I’d love to go to Venice. I had flights there about ten years ago but missed my flight and had to book to somewhere else in Italy. Still never been. Hope you end up writing the Alaska book because I’d love to read it.

  2. Oh, interesting. I don’t have enough travel experience (or worldly knowledge) to set my stories anywhere other than Canada, ancient Egypt, or maybe (coincidentally) Japan. Ancient Egypt is actually the easiest as far as I’m concerned, because there’s only so much information to be had and you get to flub the rest of it.

    I’d have to take a trip to Japan to really feel comfortable setting a story there, but I’ve been consuming manga and anime at a ravenous pace for about twelve years now, and following its evolution (and through it the Japanese presentation of Japanese culture) has, I think, offered me a certain insight in regards to what it’s like to live there. I also have several Japanese friends, some of whom have never left the country and others of whom have spent time studying in Canada (or Europe). And then there’s my English friends who have lived or are living in Japan…

    More than the places, though, I’ve always been interested in representing the people. I’m far more likely to write a British character than a story set in England (despite my nigh-religious following of Doctor Who). And in Canada alone, there’s so many denominations and types of ancestry – Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Native American, Inuit, Irish, Indian, Pakistani, African, Cuban, Mexican, Romani, French… And then factor in religion on top of that, and you have all the world at your fingertips in a single country.

    I also find it the most difficult, though. Being a white middle-class woman from a large and well-adjusted family, I don’t usually feel qualified to write from the perspective of a person whose life is so different from my own and which has very sensitive analogues in real life. I don’t have many friends of different backgrounds I can ask, and not everyone will take it well if you go up to them and say “hey, will you tell me about your cultural experiences so I can use bits and pieces of them to make up a fictional character in this story I’m writing?”

    1. Your last paragraph is excruciatingly close to my own experience, Kay, except I made the mistake of writing 90k words about another culture and ignoring that voice inside my head telling me I didn’t know what I was talking about. That’s a lesson learned.

      Canada sounds like a fascinating place. I’d love to go. My family didn’t go when I was growing up, and now I live so far away. It’s on me and my husband’s ‘Someday’ list, though.

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