When writing Cooking with Bones, and designing a futuristic city, I took a lot of time over getting the name right. I eventually chose Paradon as it’s an anagram of Pandora – the idea being that the city is not a ‘box of delights’, however it is perceived. It’s filled with all the new ‘troubles’ of the world, which have been designed to never escape. The beauty myth, social media, fashion, genetic engineering, perfect weather, strictly controlled immigration, cosmetic surgery, cleanliness, and every ideal of perfection have become the new ‘norm’. Should the city ever rebel/explode and these ideals be eradicated, what would remain could be the same as in the Pandora myth – at the bottom of the ‘box’ (or originally, ‘jar’) would be ‘hope’.
I originally wanted to use the name Pandora but as there were many other media references to this name in sci-fi / futuristic portrayals of other worlds, particularly the planet in Avatar, I decided to anagram it. I also liked the way the word Paradon was similar to Paragon. (A model of excellence or perfection of a kind.)
The idea of the giant mirrors reflecting eternal light (from the sun and moon) into Paradon came from research. I wanted to look into the idea of the ‘best’ season (summer) becoming a permanent fixture. In a ‘perfect’ city, weather would be controlled and no one would grumble. I found out that a giant mirror is already used for a village in Italy which lacks natural light:
Recently, in a Big Issue review, the name ‘Paradon’ was referenced to a combination of ‘Paradise’ and ‘London’ and there is also some truth in this as well – the village in Cooking with Bones was based on Polperro in Cornwall. I stayed there during a writing retreat that I won in a competition, and was so intrigued, I explored it thoroughly and came back with many notes. When I was imagining the sisters’ journey, I envisaged them travelling the roads from London to Polperro to find Old Kelp’s cottage at the edge of the village. Polperro has tunnels built underneath it in order to keep out the floods. There is a red phone box and letterbox. The streets are too narrow for cars, and the nearest police and fire services are a fair few miles away. There are many ‘holiday lets’ which stand empty apart from during the Easter and Summer holiday seasons. The idea of ‘the Spring and Summer people’ came from this idea.
So the settings in Cooking with Bones are partially made up and imagined, but with aspects of Polperro in Cornwall, a futuristic London, the Pandora myth, and the mirror village ‘Viganella’ in Italy.
Looking at this – and considering creative writing exercises on ‘Settings’ – perhaps the following may be useful ones to try:
1) Take an existing myth or fairytale with a clear ‘moral’ (eg: Pandora, Cinderella etc) and use an aspect of the story (all the troubles being released into the world / the shoe must fit…) as the main focus of the setting – and make all societal / social rules point in that direction.
2) Research an idea of perfection (weather / beauty / cleanliness etc) and extend this idea into an ideal: find/invent an extreme version of this. Use aspects of your research in the setting: eg: as part of the architecture or pastimes of the inhabitants.
3) Take a place you’ve visited / know well, and choose an aspect of the place that interests you. (eg: ghost towns, craft shops, stone mosaics, water features etc) Do an extended piece of writing about this aspect of a setting, pushing it to an extreme.
4) Combine two places which are very different to one another to show a setting with aspects of both of these locations. (eg: tall buildings made from marble combined with lichen-covered stones…)