Denise Mina and Ron Rash were two discoveries for me at Wellington Writers and Readers 2012. Two different writers setting their books in very different places, but seeing them together examining the importance of place in their novels was a real treat. For a start I could listen to their accents all day, but what they were saying was just as good as how they said it.
Although the fabric of their landscapes is far apart, from Rash’s rural Appalachian Mountains to Mina’s gritty, mean streets of suburban Glasgow, they are connected by a strong sense of history.
According to Mina, Scottish people are obsessed by history; it’s a part of being poor. Rash’s Southerners are poor too, less mobile than other Americans with roots running deep into the history of the place they live in, where something as long ago as the Civil War can be very near.
Both writers distiguished between local colour and regional writing. Local colour is concerned with what makes an area different, while regional writing is universal, looking out from the inside. We tend to think of things being neutral if they are set in New York or London, but that is exactly what they’re not. It’s not true that New York is never regional and that London doesn’t have an accent.
When I thought about books with a strong sense of place the first that came to mind was Winter’s Bone, set in the Ozarks and written by Daniel Woodrell, who happens to be a friend of Ron Rash’s. Woodrell’s Ozarks are a long way from suburban Christchurch and Ree Dolly may be moving through a very particular landscape, but what keeps her searching is universal – love for her family.
What books would you recommend for their strong sense of place?