Crafting “Literary Sense of Place”: the generative work of literary place-making



literary geography, place-making, literary sense of place, writing place, experiential techniques, sensory research, Tony Birch


This paper examines the how of literary wheres. As makers of literary works, creative writers are tasked with evoking place on the page. While the nexus of place and literature is increasingly recognised as fertile scholarly ground, the specifics of how writers actually “make” literary places remain opaque and under-researched. I seek to address this gap by exploring how literary place is constituted through creative practice. Focusing on the work of Australian writer Tony Birch, I document a range of generative tools creative writers may use to produce what I call “literary sense of place”. Drawing on interview-based case studies and key concepts from human geography, I analyse how these practitioners harness various “off-page” modes of enquiry to evoke place compellingly in textual form. While my main focus is creative practice, I also examine the resultant literary texts to help illuminate how process manifests in content. By profiling a range of “place-oriented experiential techniques (POETs)” – including site visits, memory, direct encounters, sensory attentiveness, “vicarious emplacement”, socio-cultural understandings, and happenstance – I present a fine-grained account of literary place-making from a practitioners’ perspective. I conclude that producing literary place is a generative, cumulative and associative process, in which writers mobilise a rich array of lived sensations, emotions, memories, understandings and actions. In foregrounding these “backstage” modes of creative labour, this paper helps clarify how writers deploy both personal and shared experiences to render literary place in resonant ways.

Author Biography

Meg Mundell, Deakin University

Research Fellow in Writing and Literature

School of Communication and Creative Arts


Agnew, John. Place and Politics: The Geographical Mediation of State and Society. Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1987.

Alexander, Neal. ‘Thinking Space: On Literary Geography’. Literary Geographies 1.1 (2015): 3–6. 14 June 2016 <>.

Anderson, Jon. Page and Place: Ongoing compositions of Plot. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2014.

Ball, Eric. ‘Literary Criticism for Places’. Symploke 14.1–2 (2006): 232–51. Project Muse. 14 February 2016 <10.1353/sym.2007.0000>.

Birch, Tony. ‘Come See the Giant Koala’. Meanjin 58.3 (1999): 60–72. Informit Literature and Culture Collection. 27 September 2017 <;dn=899183647535585;res=IELLCC>.

---. ‘“Death is Forgotten in Victory”: Colonial Landscapes and Narratives of Emptiness’. Object Lessons: Archaeology and Heritage in Australia. Eds Jane Lydon & Tracy Ireland. Melbourne, Victoria: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2005. 186–200.

---. Shadowboxing. Scribe: Melbourne, 2006.

---. “The Red House”. Shadowboxing. Scribe: Melbourne, 2006. 1– 20.

---. ‘The Bulldozer’. Shadowboxing. Scribe: Melbourne, 2006. 75–87.

---. ‘The Sea of Tranquillity’. Shadowboxing. Scribe: Melbourne, 2006. 105–122.

---. Father’s Day. Melbourne: Hunter Publishers, 2009.

---. ‘Cartography’. Father’s Day. Melbourne: Hunter Publishers, 2009. 49–58.

---. ‘The Chocolate Empire’. Father’s Day. Melbourne: Hunter Publishers, 2009. 75–94.

---. ‘The Other Half / The Forgotten Tenth / The Degenerate Type – Categories of deviance in the welfare state’. Type and Typology in Cultural History seminar. University of Melbourne. 5 Nov. 2010.

---. Blood. Queensland: UQP, 2011.

---. ‘Let’s Walk – Number One – Tony and Nina’. Weather Stations. 7 May 2015. 8 August 2016 <>.

---. Personal interview. 5 December 2011.

Brien, Donna Lee. ‘Creative Practice as Research: a Creative Writing Case Study.’ Media International Australia Incorporating Culture and Policy. 118 (2006): 53–59. 3 December 2015 <>.

Brien, Donna Lee and Lynda Hawryluk. ‘Facilitating “Storied Relationships to a Place”: The capacity of the university to lead communities towards resilience through creative arts activities’. TEXT Special Issue Website Series 12, Leadership in the Creative Arts (2011): 1–12. 19 April 2015 <>.

Brace, Catherine and Adeline Johns-Putra. ‘Recovering Inspiration in the Spaces of Creative Writing’. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35.3 (2010): 399–413. JSTOR. 6 October 2017 <>.

Brosseau, Marc. ‘Geography’s Literature’. Progress in Human Geography 18 (1994): 333–353. Sage Online. 16 January 2015 .

Cultural Atlas of Australia. 28 September 2017 <>.

Canter, David (1997). ‘The Facets of Place’. Advances in Environment, Behaviour, and Design. Eds Gary T. Moore and Robert W. Marans. New York: Plenum, 1997. 109–47.

Caquard, Sébastien and William Cartwright. ‘Narrative Cartography: From Mapping Stories to the Narrative of Maps and Mapping’. The Cartographic Journal 51.2 (2014): 101–106. Proquest Central. 22 September 2017 <>.

Carter, Paul. The Road to Botany Bay: An Essay in Spatial History. London: Faber and Faber, 1987.

---. The Lie of the Land. London: Faber and Faber, 1996.

Casey, Edward. Getting Back into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993.

Chatwin, Bruce. Songlines. UK: Picador, 1987.

Cresswell, Tim. Place: A Short Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

Doyle, Catherine. ‘The Writer Tells: The Creative Process in the Writing of Literary Fiction’. Creativity Research Journal 11.1 (1998): 29–37. EBSCOhost. 29 September 2017>.

Edlich, Micha. ‘Autobiographical Ecocritical Practices and Academic Environmental Life Writing: John Elder, Ian Marshall, and Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands’. Literature Compass 8.12 (2011): 929–940. Wiley Online Library. 14 September 2017 .

Gibson, Ross. Seven Versions of an Australian Badland. St Lucia: U of Queensland P, 2001.

Glotfelty, Cheryll and Harold Fromm (Eds). The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology. U of Georgia P, 1996.

Hones, Sheila. ‘Text as It Happens: Literary Geography’. Geography Compass 2.5 (2008): 1301–1317. Wiley Online Library. 28 August 2017 <>.

---. Literary Geographies: Narrative Space in Let the Great World Spin. New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2014.

---. ‘Thinking Space: Literary Geographies, Past and Future’. Literary Geographies 1.2 (2015): 1–5. 12 May 2016 <>.

Huggan, Graham. Australian Literature: Postcolonialism, Racism, Transnationalism. Oxford UP, 2007.

İmamoğlu, Çağrı. The Role of Schemas in Understanding Places. Middle East Technical University Journal of the Faculty of Architecture 26 (2009): 153–173. EBSCOhost. 29 September 2017>.

Jacobsen, Matt and Soren Larsen. ‘Ethnographic Fiction for Writing and Research in Cultural Geography’. Journal of Cultural Geography 31.2 (2014): 179–193. Taylor & Francis Online. 12 September 2017 <>.

Jamie, Katherine. ‘A Lone Enraptured Male’. London Review of Books. 30: 5 (2008). Proquest. 28 September 2017 <>.

Jones, Owain (2005). ‘An Ecology of Emotion: Memory, Self and Landscape’. Emotional Geographies. Eds Joyce Davidson, Liz Bondi and Mick Smith. Aldershot: Ashgate (2005): 205–219.

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

Kaufman, Geoff and Lisa Libby. ‘Changing Beliefs and Behavior Through Experience-Taking’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 103.1 (2012): 1–19. EBSCOhost. 6 May 2013

Keen, Suzanne. ‘A Theory of Narrative Empathy’. Narrative 14.3 (2006): 207–236.

Keen, Suzanne. Empathy and the Novel. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007.

Kneale, James. Commentary on: ‘Text as It Happens: Literary Geography.’ Compass Interdisciplinary Virtual Conference, October 2009. 1 December 2015 <>.

Kraitsowits, Stephan. ‘Australian Science Fiction: As Showcased by Anthologies of Australian SF Short Stories’. Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature: JASAL 11.1 (2011): 1–11. ProQuest. 29 September 2017 <>.

Krauth, Nigel. ‘The Story in my Foot: Writing and the Body’. TEXT 14.1 (2010). 8 August 2017 <>.

Lappin, Linda. ‘Mapping the Soul of Place’. TEXT 18.1 (2014). 8 August 2016 .

---. The Soul of Place: A Creative Writing Workbook: Ideas and Exercises for Conjuring the Genius Loci. Palo Alto: Traveler’s Tales, 2015.

Leer, Martin. ‘Imagined Counterpart: Outlining a Conceptual Literary Geography of Australia’. Australian Literary Studies 15.2 (1991): 1–13. EBSCOhost. 22 September 2017.>.

Literary Atlas of Europe. Institute of Cartography and Geoinformation, ETH Zurich. 8 February 2014 <>.

Cranston, C.A. and Robert Zeller. Eds. The Littoral Zone: Australian Contexts and their Writers. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2007.

Lorimer, Hayden and Hester Parr. ‘Excursions – Telling Stories and Journeys’. Cultural Geographies 21.4 (2014): 543–547. Sage Premier. 17 September 2017 <10.1177/1474474014547326>.

Lutwack, Leonard. The Role of Place in Literature. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 1985.

Manzo, Lyn (2005). ‘For Better or Worse: Exploring Multiple Dimensions of Place Meaning’. Journal of Environmental Psychology 25.1 (2005): 67–86. Science Direct. 20 September 2017 <>.

Marston, Sally and Sarah de Leeuw. ‘Creativity and Geography: Toward a politicized intervention’. Geographical Review 103.2 (2013): iii –xxvi. EBESCOhost. 27 August 2015 .

Moretti, Franco. An Atlas of the European Novel, 1800–1900. Verso, 1998.

Moreton-Robinson, Aileen. ‘I Still Call Australia Home: Indigenous belonging and place in a white postcolonising society’. Ed. Sarah Ahmed. Uprootings/Regroundings: Questions of Home and Migration. Oxford: Berg Publishing, 2003. 23–40.

Mueke, Stephen. No Road: Bitumen all the Way. Perth: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1997.

Ogborn, Miles. ‘Mapping Words’. New Formations 57 (2005): 145–149. EBSCOhost. 12 September 2017>.

Porteous, John. ‘Topocide: The Annihilation of Place’. Qualitative Methods in Human Geography. Eds John Eyles and David Smith. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998. 75–93.

Porteous, John and Sandra Smith. Domicide: The Global Destruction of Home. Montreal: McGill-Queens UP, 2001.

Piatti, Barbara, Hans Bär, Anne-Kathrin Reuschel, Lorenz Hurni and William Cartwright. ‘Mapping Literature: Towards a Geography of Fiction’. Cartography and Art, Lecture Notes in Geoinformation and Cartography. Eds William Cartwright, Georg Gartner, Antje Lehn. Berlin: Springer, 2009. 177–192.

Pile, Steve (2002). ‘Memory and the City: Manchester’. Temporalities, Autobiography and Everyday Life. Eds Jan Campbell and Janet Harbord. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2002. 111–127.

Proshansky, Harold, Abbe Fabian and Robert Kaminoff. ‘Place-identity: Physical World Socialisation of the Self’. Journal of Environmental Psychology 3.1 (1983): 57–83. Science Direct. 24 January 2013 <>.

Robin, Libby. ‘The Eco-Humanities as Literature: A New Genre?’ Australian Literary Studies 23.3 (2008): 290–304. EBESCOhost. 29 September 2017>.

Root-Bernstein, Michele. ‘Imaginary Worldplay as an Indicator of Creative Giftedness’. International Handbook on Giftedness. Ed. Larisa Shavinina. Springer Science and Business Media, 2009. 599–616.

Satchell, Kim and Lorraine Shannon. ‘Kangaloon: Creative Ecologies’. TEXT Special Issue Website Series 20, Writing Creates Ecology: Ecology Creates Writing (2013). 18 September 2017 <>.

Saunders, Angharad. ‘Literary Geography: Reforging the Connections’. Progress in Human Geography 34.4 (2010): 436–452. Proquest Central. 8 August 2017>.

---. ‘Interpretations on an Interior’. Literary Geographies 1.2 (2015): 174–194. 19 September 2017 <>.

Scott, Joan. ‘The Evidence of Experience’. Critical Inquiry 17.4 (1991): 773–797.

Sharp, Joanne. Towards a Critical Analysis of Fictive Geographies. Area 32.3 (2000): 327–334. JSTOR. 18 April 2012 <>.

Schroeder, Harold (1989). ‘Preference and Meaning of Arboretum Landscapes: Combining quantitative and qualitative data’. Journal of Environmental Psychology 11.2 (1991): 232–256. Science Direct. 14 June 2015 <>.

Smith, Hazel and Roger Dean (eds.) Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2009.

Speer, Nicole, Jeremy Reynolds, Khena Swallow and Jeffrey Zacks. ‘Reading Stories Activates Neural Representations of Visual and Motor Experiences’. Psychological Science 20.8 (2009): 989–999. JSTOR. 26 November 2014 .

Stadler, Jane, Peta Mitchell and Stephen Carleton. Imagined landscapes: geovisualizing Australian spatial narratives. Spatial Humanities. Indiana: Indiana UP, 2016.

Steger, Jason. ‘Tony Birch’. The Age May 10 2014: 28–29.

Stepinsky, Jeffrey. ‘Global Memory and the Rhythm of Life’. The American Behavioral Scientist. 48.10 (2005): 1383–1402. Proquest Central. 8 September 2017 <>.

Tally, Robert (ed.) Geocritical Explorations: Space, Place, and Mapping in Literary and Cultural Studies. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

---. ‘On Literary Cartography: Narrative as a Spatially Symbolic Act’. NANO: New American Notes Online 1: Navigation (2011). 28 October 2017 <>.

Taylor, Marjorie, Sarah Hodges and Adèle Kohányi. ‘The Illusion of Independent Agency: Do Adult Fiction Writers Experience Their Characters as Having Minds of Their Own?’ Imagination, Cognition and Personality 22.4 (2003): 361–380. Sage Premier. 11 September 2017 <>.

Thacker, Andrew. ‘The Idea of a Critical Literary Geography’. New Formations 57 (2005–2006): 56–73. 8 April 2016 <>.

Tindall, Gillian. Countries of the Mind: The Meaning of Place to Writers. London: Hogarth, 1991.

Tuan, Yi-Fu. Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2008 (1977).

Tumarkin, Maria. Traumascapes: the Power and Fate of Places Transformed by Tragedy. Melbourne: Melbourne UP, 2005.

Turner, Graeme. National Fictions: Literature, film and the construction of Australian narrative. NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1986.

Vanclay, Frank. ‘Place Matters’. Making Sense of Place: Exploring Concepts and Expressions of Place Through Different Senses and Lenses. Eds Frank Vanclay, Matthew Higgins and Adam Blackshaw. Canberra: National Museum of Australia, 2008. 3–11.

Vincent, Eve. ‘Tony Birch World: The Promise’. 11 July 2014. Sydney Review of Books. Ed. Catriona Menzies-Pike. 23 May 2015 <>.

Ward, Miranda. The Art of Writing Place. Geography Compass 8.10 (2014): 755–766. Wiley Online. 29 September 2017 <>.

Westphal, Bertrand. Geocriticism: Real and Fictional Spaces. Trans. Robert Tally. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

White, Kenneth. The Great Field of Geopoetics. 12 June 2017 <>.

Williams, Daniel and Susan Stewart. ‘Sense of Place: An Elusive Concept that is Finding a Place in Ecosystem Management’. Journal of Forestry 66.5 (1998): 18–23. 9 November 2016 <>.

Wilson, Kathleen. ‘Therapeutic Landscapes and First Nations Peoples: an Exploration of Culture, Health and Place’. Health & Place 9.2 (2003): 83–93. 2 February 2015 <>.

Withers, Charles. ‘Place and the Spatial Turn in Geography and in History’. Journal of the History of Ideas 70.4 (2009): 637–658. JSTOR. 19 April 2014 <>.

Wylie, John. ‘A Single Day’s Walking: narrating self and landscape on the South West Coast Path’. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 30.2 (2005): 234–247. JSTOR. 5 March 2015 <>.