I think in the best fiction I’ve read, a strong sense of place is as important as the story or the characters that populate it. One of the main problems facing a writer at the start of a novel, along with which point of view to take, is whether to locate the story in a real or imagined area. Aside from building a new world in a fantasy, there are, essentially two options. Set your story in a real place or set it in an imagined place. This might be loosely based on a real city (Graham Greene’s Nottwich, for example, in A Gun for Sale, which is Nottingham in all but name) or it might be a complete fabrication.
I’ve realised, half-way through my novel (why can these things never hit me on page 1?), that the real location in my novel is now going to have to be changed. Something happens in the novel that is connected to the Battle of Sole Bay in 1672, but now I realise, crucially, that I need the date to be different. 1672 is not convenient for me. You inconsiderate Dutch warmongers. 1701 would have been ideal. So now it’s the Battle of Winter Bay. And it’s goodbye Southwold, hello Southwick.