How finding the right setting can inspire your storytelling

Some of my favourite books are famous for their memorable settings. Jane Eyre’s gothic, gloomy Thornfield Hall is the perfect place for Jane to fall for the enigmatic Rochester; and the remote island on the South Devon coast provides a threatening backdrop for the doomed cast of And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. These are books where the setting is so integral to the plot and its characters that you couldn’t imagine the story happening anywhere else. It’s because of the setting being exactly as it is that the plot unfolds and the characters respond in the way they do.

It’s been said that Charlotte Bronte was inspired to write Jane Eyre after hearing about a mentally ill woman confined to an attic in Norton Conyers, after she visited the North Yorkshire manor in 1839. Soldier Island and the grand art-deco hotel that features in And Then There Were None were based on Burgh Island and it’s real-life hotel.

Like many writers, I also love to explore old buildings and learn their histories. It’s a great way to get ideas for stories. Who lived there and what were their lives like? Was anyone born in this room? Did someone die? Did someone fall in love? Did they get a phone call or a letter that changed their lives, while standing in this very hallway? In the way that a character behaves the way they do because of their past experiences, the same goes for locations. They have a history that will be informed and affected by the people who have lived there, or passed through that space over time.

My short story The Sound the Sea Makes, a historical mystery, was inspired by the tragic past of the Bustard Head Lighthouse on Queensland’s central coast. When researching Queensland lighthouses for my contribution to Lighthouse – An Anthology, I found a book called Lighthouse of Tragedy by Stuart Buchanan, which describes the history of the lighthouse in considerable detail. In 1887, Kate Gibson, the lighthouse keeper’s wife, disappeared from the cottage. After an exhaustive search of the surrounding bushland, Kate’s teenage daughter discovered her body lying against a tree, her throat slit by a razor. The death was deemed suicide. This story intrigued me and I began to speculate. What had driven this woman to take her own life, and in such a gruesome fashion? Was it really suicide, or could she have been murdered?

Kate Gibson was buried in the Bustard Head Cemetery along with many others who lived and died at the lighthouse, and the opening scene of my short story takes place in a very similar cemetery. While my story is entirely fictional, the idea of a beautiful, isolated lighthouse with a morbid past stirred my imagination and inspired me to write The Sound the Sea Makes, which will be published as part of Lighthouse – An Anthology.

Lighthouse – An Anthology is a unique multi-genre collection of short stories that celebrate lighthouses. From sci-fi and fantasy to romance and crime – and everything in between – Lighthouse features exciting voices from emerging and established Australian writers.

It is now available for pre-order at the limited time price of $0.99. Secure your copy now or find out more at

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