Philippa: Something that makes setting interesting is its ability to surprise. I’m thinking of JK Rowling’s Casual Vacancy, set in a quaint and fairly well-off Cotswold town that in fact has a lot of socioeconomic problems hiding beneath the surface – poverty, drug abuse. That tension within the setting informs much of the conflict in the plot.
Specific can be good – but nonspecific and made up can also be good! Bedding something in a real location gives the writing a quality of verity, and also deliver a certain payoff in how it honours and represents life in a specific town or region. There is an element of local colour. I have recently been reading Angela Marsons and I get a buzz from the way in which her crime stories bring to life, e.g., the dual carriageway at the end of my mom’s road! But somewhere made up can still achieve much of the same while still giving you freedom, e.g., from getting too worried about getting the representation of a place ‘right’ – we can end up stuck in a trap of literalness. Sometimes, too, very specific locations can seem to narrow the appeal rather than expand them – I think there is a real trick in being able to make the specific universal.