Why I Love To Set Novels In British Columbia, by Sam Hawksmoor
Choosing British Columbia as a location for my novels is practically cheating. What’s not to like about mountains, beaches, the Pacific Ocean, fiords, a sophisticated city in Vancouver with at least 1000 great restaurants, a choice of theatres and cinemas, skiing on Grouse Mountain in winter and walking up the Grind in summer. Then there are the Whistler Mountains, the huge winding Fraser River that snakes down from the wine country and through the vast forests towards the Pacific, the amazing islands in the gulf and the vast splendour of Vancouver Island. It’s the best place to live on Earth.
In 1886 Vancouver was the newest city on Earth and in June that year it had burned to a crisp. So everything starts after that date. Everyone wanted a piece of the action and Vancouver has always been about real estate and immigrants. The town where my family still lives have street and shops signs in Korean now. The face of Vancouver is Chinese, Korean, East Indian and of course First Nation and the original settlers from England, Scotland and Europe. This dynamic mix is transforming the culture and wealth of British Columbia. There are two great world-class universities, UBC and Simon Fraser, busy producing future business and scientific leaders. Just below UBC you can enjoy the best skimboarding in the shallows once the tide goes out. Twenty years ago I was inspired by a quirky event on that very beach when walking with my dog and came across a pair of shoes with someone’s feet still inside them! It made its way into a novel I wrote under another name (Mean Tide) when I relocated to London. ‘No experience wasted’ is my motto. Sport is threaded through life in BC, where the bike is king and sailing and kayaking practically compulsory.
This leads me to Vancouver and British Columbia’s dark side: the gangs, the drugs, the violent crime and family breakdowns as people struggle to live in some of the most expensive real estate in North America. You only have to stroll to the edge of the tourist area of Gastown to Hastings and come face to face with undesirable types and see the mask slip from the face of paradise. It’s an immediate reality check and drugs in particular draws in teens. No city is without its bad side, but this is spread right across the province and there are causal links to this, from bikers to teen runaways, inadequate parenting, poor role models and more. Yet it’s also full of ambitious kids, good kids and generous kids who want to make their mark on the world. Some of them even survive the terrors and pressures of high school – a literary genre I wouldn’t dare to contribute to.
All this is why British Columbia is the most perfect location for me as a setting for Young Adult novels. Everything happens in British Columbia and it is full of possibilities. The tragedy is that most publishers haven’t been there, can’t see it and moan if your book is set anywhere but the UK or USA. I would love to set a novel in Cape Town for example – another fantastic city with mountains and possibilities – but they shake their heads and just mutter that Africa doesn’t sell. There’s a lot of location prejudice. They are wrong of course. Think of your favourite movies and there’s a good chance some of them were shot in Vancouver: from Twilight to Juno, Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol, The Butterfly Effect and Hot Tub Time Machine.
One of the best sights I ever had was sailing back from Vancouver Island past Galliano Island. A forest was on fire on the island, aircraft were bombing it with water and the smoke trail went on for miles, as a pod of whales went right by. My niece Tabytha and I sipped our wine, amazed, and along came the best sunset ever. That’s life in British Columbia, and that’s where my heart lies.
Sam Hawksmoor’s author website: www.samhawksmoor.com
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