Friday 25 November 2011

Do you use nostalgia when writing?

Annie's song by John Denver
When I was listening to Radio 2 in the car yesterday, Chris Evans played Annie's Song by John Denver.  I haven't heard this song for years and I was instantly taken back to the 1970s.  I was around four years old, sitting in the back of our pea-green Ford Escort. The John Denver tape was playing and I can picture my mother, with her long brown hair engrossed in the map whilst my father drove us along a country lane.  I've included a link from in case you remember this song and would like to listen to it.

When I catch a whiff of Chanel No 5 I remember my late mother and a flood of memories come back.
Cinnamon reminds me of New York. I worked there for a month in 2001 and remember eating cinnamon bagels.
I ate Nutella on toast the other day and was taken back to Italy.
The senses bring a page of writing to life but they can also be used to evoke memories.
After writing a few drafts of my novel, 'The Grandson' it took me a while to work out where the novel should begin.  Several thousand words which came before the new Page One were cut.  Getting that backstory into the novel without dumping the information everywhere was a challenge.  After reading 'how to' books and going to writing classes, I worked out that nostalgia can be used to bring in backstory.  When a character is being nostalgic, relevant information from their past can be included in a more subtle way.
Cross-referencing to an earlier part of the novel
Towards the end of 'The Grandson', the hero, Alessandro returns a cardigan to the heroine, Jessica when she visits him in New York.  Two years previously, she left this cardigan on the back of a chair in a restaurant in Siena. The cardigan smells of the perfume she wore then and Jessica is taken back to Siena. Alessandro likes the perfume but Jessica doesn't wear it anymore because her fiancé, Sebastian doesn't like it.
Nostalgia can be used as inspiration.  My novel, 'The Grandson' was inspired by eight months studying and au pairing in Siena in 1994.
Have you used nostalgia to inspire a novel?  When writing do you use nostalgia as an opportunity to bring in backstory or reference an earlier part of the novel? I'd be interested to read your comments.


  1. Yes, I do. Several of the things in my wip are based on my memories of Scotland and of working in the City (London).
    Your blog did that too. I have such happy memories of New York and I often wear Chanel No 5, I love it and the memories it holds. I also love Cinnamon, Nutella and Italy so lots of nostalgia going on when I should be doing other things!

  2. My new piece (not really a WIP yet as it's more in mind than actually in progress!) is going to be based in the area I grew up and there are loads of little sensory details that keep springing to mind. I grew up at the seaside so there's lots to do with the weather and sea and salt that's very much from my own memories.

    I think it's interesting that these are often sensory things, as I think it's those sorts of details that really bring description alive when you're reading too.

  3. Absolutely! My first novel is set in London and Italy, London because I was living there when I started to write the novel but the character moves to the South Coast because he comes from a fishing village in Italy and misses the sea - I have a strong connection and nostalgic feeling for the sea.

    Many of my stories are set in places I have travelled to and felt a strong affinity to, Chicago, Hanoi, rural New Zealand, the south of France.

    I love using nostaligia because its like being back in the memory, even if it is a sad moment like the death of a loved one, I think it can also be a healing experience. Proof of the nostalgic effect came to me when my sister read my novel and cried three times!

  4. Daddy's Little Spy - Isabella Rose's amazing struggle to survive a mother who became a Wiccan or witch during WW2 is full of nostalgia and little know facts about the wartime.
    I wrote from child's pov chronologically but now told to write from adult pov looking backwards.
    Less dramatic but will fit misery me market. on Kindle as ebook and in paperback. Excellent reviews.