These days probably more than ever, change happens so rapidly that as a writer there is always a dilemma of when and how to set your story in time.
The fist of my novels which I self-published through Kindle Direct Publishing was Farholm; it was only half way through that someone gave the main character a mobile phone, and even then it kept losing its signal. Texting was an abbreviated art – ‘c u l8a’, ‘thx’, ‘rofl’ and of course lol which has now migrated into speech, and even changes to lolling and lolled – nothing to do with slumping comfortably somewhere.
Now my characters all have phones and ipads and should never get lost because everyone has a satnav. With books I’m now republishing as paperbacks, do I update them with new technology (which will no doubt be out of date next year) or do I keep the time setting where it originally was and either put dates to anchor when the story was set, or otherwise indicate that by having a national or international event mentioned?
I’ve often thought of writing something set at a different time – not just my family’s stories, but something fictional, something maybe based on my life at a certain time – a student in the 70’s? A teacher in the 70’s and 80’s? Just recently I’ve had another character arrive in my imagination, a character without a plot. My character Gus is still wandering the salt marshes and water meadows and dropping into the pub, desperately seeking a plot I can write for him, and now someone else has arrived.
I’ve mentioned a couple of times recently my new character, investigative reporter Mike Scott and his friend Adam James. I have no idea what story to write about them, but vaguely thought Mike might be an investigative reporter on a local newspaper, desperately trying to make it big in the media. I was on the verge of abandoning this idea because I know nothing about journalism.
Last night I began to have an idea. I was writing about the artist and writer Thomas Hennell who used to ride around the countryside drawing and sketching the rural scenes he saw. I mentioned that these days people wouldn’t do this, and I had memories of having to push my bike home because the battery for the lights had run out and I was being afraid of being stopped by a policeman. I remembered old wicker bicycle baskets and those funny saddle bags tucked under the seat with leather straps and metal buttons, and bicycle clips and puncture kits and bicycle pumps. I suddenly saw Mike Scott riding round on such a bike, not today but in the 1960’s or even in the 1950’s.
I have a treasure trove of my parents photos of what people wore, what cars they drove, what the furnishings of their houses were like, and piles of cookery books about what they ate. This is a period near enough for me to be able to research confidently, and I can just imagine Mike in such a setting, dreams of being an investigative reporter as he covers the Am-Dram productions and the garden fetes! I even think I might have a story for him!
Here is a link to what I wrote about Thomas Hennell: