The importance of place in writing is an area that is sometimes overlooked. When I do my day job of teaching novel writing, I always tell my students that when done right, the setting of a book should act like an additional character in a novel. There should be something about the description of a location that creates a specific sense of atmosphere that infuses the storytelling.

But how well does a writer need to know their location? A few years ago David Nicholls wrote his bestselling novel Us – a book about a married couple going on a tour of Europe before their son goes to university. Rather than visit all the settings, he argued that the use of things like Google Street View offered enough information to write about his locations.

I’ve always been slightly more traditional in my research methods. Back in the day when I wrote my first novel, which was set in Brighton, I spent a long afternoon trudging the streets until I settled on a house I thought my protagonist might live. For my second novel, I went on a similar expedition to a Warwickshire churchyard, searching for the grave of a folk singer where I’d set the book’s closing scene.

One of the authors I’m particularly looking forward to seeing at this year’s Literary Festival is Ayisha Malik. Ayisha is wonderfully talented comic writer, whose work has been compared to the likes of Barbara Pym and Helen Fielding. Her first two novels featured her character Sofia Khan, dubbed by some reviewers as a ‘Muslim Bridget Jones’ – in one classic scene, Khan deals with racist abuse on the tube by shouting back ‘Terrorists don’t wear vintage shoes!’

Ayisha’s latest book, This Green and Pleasant Land, takes her out of London and into the fictional Dorset Village of Babbels End. The story revolves around Bilal Hasham, a local resident whose mother’s dying wish is for him to build a mosque in the village. His attempts create a chain of events that sets some locals at loggerheads and brings others together – it’s delicately, humorously, thoughtfully done, the jokes laced with questions about Britishness and belonging.

In order to research the book, Ayisha spent a month in West Dorset, living in the village of Long Bredy near Dorchester to research. She got to know the locals and local life, all of which she brings out in her novel. We might just be over the county border here, but there’s plenty in Ayisha’s writing you might recognise, observations that will make you laugh and think in equal measure.

Ayisha Malik is appearing at Salisbury Literary Festival at Salisbury Guildhall on Saturday, October 19 at 4pm. For details visit