Historical fiction – and research

I am researching my next book.  It’s always a fascinating, if slightly scary process. One of the huge delights of writing historical fiction is the opportunity to delve into a previously unknown, or under-researched area.  It seems to me that writers of historical fiction fall into two camps.  Those who, like me, prefer to tackle a subject, or a character about whom relatively little is known, and those who take a subject that is already well researched and find some extra dimension to explore. Perhaps the most famous exponent of the second camp is Hilary Mantel and her two novels about Thomas Cromwell – a man whose life has been exhaustively explored in biographies.

I fall into the first camp.  I prefer a subject about which little has been written before.  I think it’s the journalist in me.  I enjoy the opportunity to research, delve and piece a previously untold story together.  This approach has another significant advantage – one can extrapolate from the evidence without fear of too much contradiction.  This is not the same as ‘making things up’.  Both my novels involved considerable research and I am anxious at all times to ensure that the context and detail of my stories are as accurate as possible.

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This was particularly true of the central character of my first novel ‘The Girl with Emerald Eyes’.  The novel was prompted by a personal experience.  My husband had a stroke whilst making a film about the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  He was taken to the medieval hospital of Santa Chiara on the edge of the Campo dei Miracoli.  I lived for several weeks in a tiny hotel on the other side of the Piazza whilst I cared for him – families are expected to feed and bathe their relatives in Italy.    My ‘commute’ each day took me past the Leaning Tower, the Duomo and Baptistery, and I became fascinated by these buildings and I resolved to write a novel based on our experience.   Several years later my husband (now fortunately recovered) introduced me to the Professor of Medieval History at Pisa University and world expert on the Tower. I had done a little research on the history of the Tower and asked him about Berta di Bernardo, the widow who famously left sixty ‘soldi’ (coins) to the authorities who ran the Piazza specifically to build the Tower back in 1172.  Why had she done it?  Her reasons appeared to be of no interest to him, but he showed me a copy of her will and I was surprised that the gift of money for the tower formed the central bequest.   I was also interested that the three men who had witnessed it included the Operaio (who ran the Piazza and its buildings), the notary of the Emperor Federico, and finally, the master mason who went on to build the Tower – Gerardo di Gerardo. Why was this man important enough to be with her at her dying moment? What might their relationship be I wondered? That was the starting point of the novel.  As virtually nothing further was known about this woman apart from her husband’s name, I had carte blanche to let my imagination run riot about Berta’s motivation.  But as the daughter of two architects I was determined that the architectural thread that ran through the book would be as accurate as possible.

My second book ‘Daughters of the Silk Road’ was triggered by my life-long interest in blue and white china.   I had purchased a collection of antique storage jars whilst working as a reporter for the BBC in Hong Kong.   They weren’t particularly valuable, and were certainly not Ming, but they provided the initial inspiration for the novel.  What if someone were to inherit a piece of china and not realise its true value?  And more to the point, what of its history?  Who had owned it over the millennia and how did it survive to the present day? I mulled on the story for several years, and then – as so often happens – reality caught up with fiction.  One day, I read a news story of a brother and sister who inherited an old vase from their uncle.   It turned out to be a valuable piece of late Ming and was sold at auction for a huge sum of money. I resolved to start writing before someone else got there before me!

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Crucial to the story was the exploration of how Chinese porcelain came into Europe. Could an explorer have brought it back?  My first thought was to write about Marco Polo who had travelled to the Far East in the thirteenth century.  But the chances of any piece of rare china surviving more than eight hundred years would, I felt, stretch the readers’ credulity. In addition, I felt intimidated by the idea of focussing a novel on a man who was so well known and about whom so much had already been written.

Fortunately, I discovered a second, less famous Venetian merchant explorer named Niccolo dei Conti, who travelled widely in the Middle and Far East a hundred and fifty years after Marco Polo, returning to Venice in 1444 – a time that coincided with the early Ming dynasty.  Even more remarkably, dei Conti had left a diary, dictated on his return to the secretary of the Pope.  A copy of that diary, kept by the British Library, formed the basis of the early part of the novel.  A rich resource, it provided me with the skeleton of a story that took my characters across the globe to meet with one of the most famous Chinese admirals of the Ming period – Admiral Zheng He.  On their return journey the family travelled through Egypt, where they were briefly imprisoned, before the tragic death of dei Conti’s wife and two small children.  Dei Conti finally arrived back in Venice with his two remaining children – Maria and Daniele. Nothing more was known of dei Conti’s children after 1444, but I was interested in what sort of life they might have had after their fascinating upbringing.

It was likely they would have continued as merchants;  it was the only life they had known.  Would they have stayed in Venice, or travelled north, as so many merchants did at that time, to the major mercantile cities of Northern Europe – Bruges, Antwerp and Amsterdam. This progress formed the backbone of the story, as we track the vase through the hands of one family.

My next book will also be based in Italy.  Once again I am exploring a relatively under-researched subject and have found a real woman who, as far as I can discover, has so far eluded any novelist’s scrutiny. I just hope I get it written before anyone else finds out about her!

 

This post is brought to you by Debbie Rix.

Crime fiction as a resource

The genre of crime fiction, in both written and visual forms, can be used as a valuable reference for writers in other genres. I don’t write crime fiction and take my hat off to those who do. If ever there was a category open to hazards and slip-ups, this is it. Divulging the wrong clue at the wrong moment can inadvertently expose the plot sooner than intended and leave the rest of the book, series, play or movie almost moot.

A well-written piece is like an instruction manual for those of us who write other types of fiction. There are so many lessons to be learned from reading a perfectly constructed story unfolding in just the right way to keep the reader interested, guessing and eager for more. But it’s not only books that provide a treasure chest of teaching material for a writer.

I am in awe of such wonderful scriptwriters as Sally Wainwright, the main writer of the detective drama, Scott and Bailey, and Jimmy McGovern who wrote the gripping two part series, Accused. As I watch these episodes, as well as being engrossed in the story, I’m fascinated by how expertly they drop just enough crumbs along the trail to keep the viewer intrigued. The plot is revealed in perfectly constructed stages, often with flashbacks and different points-of-view, and events are presented at just the right moment to throw more legitimate questions into the viewer’s mind.

They are experts in setting pace, dangling hooks and lacing sub-plots into the main framework. They portray characters with colour, contradiction and idiosyncrasies. A simple line cleverly inserted to appear almost insignificant can highlight a great deal about the belief structure of a protagonist which the viewer, often unwittingly, absorbs. For example, in Scott and Bailey, DCI Gill Murray’s comment that a criminal ‘has the mental age of a banana’ shows in those few words (and delivered with her clipped tone), that she has no time for ‘low-life scumbags,’ as she’s also prone to call them. She certainly does not suffer fools and this is made clear within a few short seconds.

Watching these skills played out on screen can provide precious material for any writer. Distilling a complicated story, regardless of the genre, into a tight-knit format that keeps the reader wanting more is no easy task. As a writer, I absorb as many of these visual clues as I can. They are reminders of how important a cleverly placed line of text can be for plot development, revealing a character’s backstory or setting up the next scene. It is also a wonderful source of watching how ‘show, don’t tell’ is crucial in maintaining the viewer’s interest.

Consumers are clever. Readers and viewers alike don’t usually want to be spoon-fed the obvious. We want to think, analyse, guess and predict. It makes the journey exciting and makes us feel like we’re in the story. We buy into it. It is perhaps the greatest reason to stay involved, to keep switching on or turning the page. If a scriptwriter or novelist can achieve this, then that is surely one of the biggest measures of success.

Competition for the readers’ and viewers’ time is more critical than ever so every tool a writer can add to their belt can only be an advantage. For me, then, a leisurely break in front of the box often doubles as a cheap research trip (at least that’s what I tell myself as I settle in with my feet up!).

 

This post is brought to you by Toni Jenkins.

On setting… and boats

author picture with boats

One of the things with writing contemporary fiction is that the setting will almost certainly be a place that is familiar to the reader. Maybe not the exact spot, but the general surroundings will hold something they will recognise. In a sense, this makes life easier. There’s none of the research and fact checking needed to place the action in a convincing mediaeval world, for instance, or the depth of consideration that’s essential to build an entirely new world in a sci-fi epic fantasy. We contemporary writers can place the little touches so necessary for three-dimensional writing by sitting and looking out of the window, or going for a walk, or taking a bus ride. I’ve often been out and noticed, say, a poster on the wall of a building or a couple arguing in a cafe and thought, ‘yes, that would work in the part of my book when…’ and a whole chunk of the plot will have fallen into place.

Summer of Secrets Front Cover

Sometimes, of course, we want things to happen in a specific place, somewhere that we may never have been. This is not impossible. Google and Wikipedia are the writer’s friend when we need to explore a town virtually, or pick up details about local amenities, significant beauty spots, even something as prosaic as bus times. My second novel, still currently ‘in progress’, starts in Thailand. I’ve never been there, but with some crossover experience of travelling in other parts of the world, including Singapore, some shameless stealing of my ex-husband’s stories of the trip he took there as a teenager (a writer never wastes information!), the detailed bus routes and ferry timetables I found online, and numerous travel blogs, I reckon I’ve built up a pretty good picture.

Having said that, I had an experience lately that reminded me how very valuable it is to go to the place you’re writing about. After my heroine leaves Thailand, she ends up on a canal boat. Her journey takes from Macclesfield down towards Stone, and it’s her first experience of being on a narrowboat. I’ve lived on my boat for over ten years now, but I don’t do a lot of actual boating. The boat is a place that I live in rather than something that I do. You need to set aside quite a lot of time to travel on the canal and, with kids who need to be at ballet or karate or Duke of Edinburgh expeditions or swimming club in the endless cycle of these things, that’s never been something I’ve managed to do.

I have a diary somewhere which chronicles the first few months of the boat, which included sailing from Runcorn – where the boat was launched – along the Bridgewater and Leeds/Liverpool canals to the place where I now moor. This diary holds invaluable memories about the experience of being a new boater: the propeller becoming clogged with plastic bags, the first attempt at reversing, of pumping out the toilet tank, of meeting another boat in a tight stretch of the waterway. Unfortunately, I’ve still not been able to find it… Luckily a friend – herself an experienced boater – has recently had a new boat built, and invited me along to be one of the first crew members. Even more fortuitously, her planned route was to take us along the Macclesfield canal.

macclesfield canal

My initial draft of the chapters where my character sails along the Macc. were okay. I had a lot of the flavour of canal travel. I do, after all, know a lot about the canal bank. But the specifics were missing. I’d forgotten what it was like to be at the tiller when the boat sinks down into a lock. I’d forgotten that moment when the lockgates open and a picture of the world beyond is framed by those vast wooden gates. Being the exact spot I wanted to write about, I was taking notes frantically. A fallen tree trunk here, an unusual balance-weight lifting bridge there. The sound of the engine, the smell of the water. As so often, I’d forgotten to bring along my notebook, but I did have my phone. The advantage of this being that they sync with my computer.stoic

Something I want my plot to include is a canal boat chase, which is something of a contradiction in terms and therefore a challenge to write. This didn’t, of course, happen on my Macclesfield trip. But you can’t have everything, and sometimes a writer just has to use her imagination. I’ll let you know how the chase scene goes when I get round to writing it!

 

This post is brought to you by Sarah Jasmon.

Who has the answer?

In 2016, the statement that there should be more diversity in publishing is still ringing loudly.  But what does that actually mean? Does that mean more diversity amongst the writers that are being published or more diversity within the writing itself e.g. characters, locations etc? According to the ongoing debate there is still a lack of diversity amongst the writers who are being traditionally published and that something needs to be done to resolve this issues.

I’ve said it often enough but I hate being reduced to an acronym but as a black woman who happens to write, I would be placed neatly in the BAME box (black, Asian and minority ethnics) and Penguin Random House (PRH) have launched a campaign just for me. OK, maybe the campaign isn’t just for me but PRH are looking to mentor and publish new writers from socio-economically marginalised backgrounds, writers with a disability and BAME and LGBT writers. PRH’s call to arms is obviously a reaction to the fact that writers from these groups are underrepresented in the publishing industry, however, I find myself asking the question if this scheme (and others that are popping up) is the right answer to this ongoing problem.

The problem does not lie with a lack of diverse writers. It would be ridiculous to think that a BAME or LGBT writer or a writer surviving on benefits was afraid to pick up a pen or open up their laptop and write a book. Recent history will show you that there are, and I will call them ‘acronym writers’, that have even won a prize or two and routinely top the best sellers list (Marlon James, Zadie Smith, AM Homes, Marjorie Blackman, JK Rowling, Dorothy Koomson, Mike Gayle) but this is a miniscule number in comparison to the number of books that are being published or remain locked away on a desktop folder.

Why do the acronym writers struggle for representation? Why are they struggling to be seen?  Self-publishing should make it easier for these writers to ‘breakout’ but if socio-economic factors prevent writers from being published traditionally than those same socio-economic factors are going to stop the same writers from self-publishing because after all, regardless of how accessible self-publishing it is, editors, proof-readers, cover artists and marketing costs money.  We live in a digital world where people refuse to be hidden. We all have blogs, Facebook pages, YouTube channels and we’re loud and clear on Twitter and Instagram. These writers are no longer hard to find.

There are talented writers are out there but the problem lies solely with the guardians standing at the gate of the publishing industry, for example, the agents, editors, publicists and even the intern who can afford to work for free wading their way through the slush pile in a windowless room on the tenth floor in another non-descript room in the city.

Perhaps employing editors, agents etc who represent the acronym writers will enable the industry to move away from the old boy’s network but what about talent? Surely, if you’re talented, your writing will shine through. You would think so, but the fact that the question of diversity is still out there shows that the curtains in the windows of the publishers’ offices are still firmly closed.

I don’t think that a mentoring programme or any other acronym specific ‘one-time only’ competitions is the answer. What happens when the scheme, mentorship programme is over or the competition deadline passes? Does that mean that all of the efforts to make the publishing industry more diverse come to an immediate stop?  The publishing industry has to do more than a once in a blue moon high profile campaign and find a more permanent solution. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers to the problem of a lack of diversity in the publishing industry but I do think that a good place to start would perhaps be for publishers and agents to move away from the misguided belief that ‘acronym writers’ do not sell books.

 

This post was brought to you by Nadine Matheson.

 

 

 

Writing essentials

It’s been nearly three years since my first book was published, and since that time my hobby has become my work. When I started writing The First Book (still lurking in my computer files somewhere, unloved and unwanted) I did it when I had a spare moment, grabbing pieces of paper to scribble on when thoughts came while waiting in traffic, emailing chunks of text to myself when inspiration struck at work (shhh). Opening my laptop on a Sunday morning and firing off a chapter in bed.

Now my job description includes the word ‘writer’, and I’ve had to learn a new routine, and become much more disciplined about my writing. As Somerset Maugham once said: “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

So what do I need in order to work?

 

Physical essentials

  • My study. At one time it was the study, the one I shared with the rest of the family, but since I became self-employed I painted it pink (I write romance, what more can I say?) and took control.

My study

  • Computer – a desktop, because I prefer to see what I’m writing on a large screen. It also means I can easily flick between twitter, email and my work in progress. Not always a good thing.
  • A cup of tea and toast. My reward for starting the day with a run or a swim. The endorphins kick start my brain and the toast feeds it.

tea and toast

  • Jenson Button. I write about handsome heroes, so I need a little inspiration.

Jenson cut out vertical

  • Pens & sticky notes. Although the writing is done on the computer, I often jot down things as they come to me. Did she say something similar in the last chapter? Was he wearing a black shirt earlier? How many times have I used the word slumped?
  • Essential for when the edits come through, so I can pick out the key points I need to change, colour coding for the different characters.

 

Non-physical essentials

This is harder to list, but the more writers I’ve met, the more writing I’ve done, these are what I believe distinguishes a writer from a person who writes a book.

  • Thick skin. Needed at first to read those rejections, later to stomach those poor reviews (umm, hope that’s not just me?!) – and yet still want to write.
  • Bloody mindedness. It doesn’t matter how hard it is to find an agent, a publisher, to write a best seller. A writer perseveres. It will come with the next book. Or the book after that…
  • A drive, a passion, a need to write. A writer finds it hard to stop thinking about their characters, about plot lines and the next book. A writer doesn’t read a book without making a mental (or often physical) note of phrases, ideas they admire or pitfalls to avoid. A writer doesn’t watch a film, listen to a conversation, stare out of the window without thinking yes and parking an idea in their brain for later.

I think what I’m saying is a writer has to write. It’s their job, their hobby, their relaxation. It’s what they do, but also who they are.

 

This post is brought to you by Kathryn Freeman.

You have to laugh . . . or you’ll cry

Has there ever been a more bone-crushingly, mind-numbingly, pull-the-duvet-up-over-your-head-and-hide depressing year than 2016? And perhaps the most depressing thing of all is that it is barely half way through.  Has there ever been a greater need for laughter to throw shards of light through the deepening gloom? Or a more difficult time to try to be funny?

Let me put this in context.  I was six years old when man first walked on the moon.  Our parents dragged us from our beds before dawn to witness this epoch-defining occasion on a crackling, jumping television screen in the corner of the kitchen.  Mum even cooked us a proper English breakfast, an event that was almost as rare in the Teckman household as a stroll on the lunar landscape.  Then, just as Neil Armstrong emerged from The Eagle and began his historic descent down the steel steps towards the moon’s surface, my brother Mike tipped his bacon and eggs into his lap meaning that one of the most important sentences ever uttered was experienced by my family as “That’s one small step for man . . . aaaughhh!” as hot yoke made contact with Mike’s inadequately protected, pyjama-clad groin.

And that’s the Gospel truth – by which I mean it has been pieced together from the oft-repeated recollections of my parents and older siblings before being committed to paper for the first time many, many years later.  That’s the oral tradition of story-telling – a system that works well for delivering an amusing anecdote but is perhaps less effective as a way of determining fundamental truths and beliefs.

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With a grim circularity given yesterday’s tragic events in the same city, the first major international incident I can definitely recall without the help of others’ memories is the terrorist attack on the Munich Olympics in 1972. I remember going to bed that evening happy in the knowledge that, according to the BBC, the Israeli athletes had all been rescued only to wake up the next morning to the news that, in fact, eleven had been killed.

So, I have been conscious of the news and of the almost limitless depths of man’s capacity for both extraordinary achievement and extraordinary cruelty for almost four and a half decades and still I maintain that this year is the worst of them all.  In the past seven months, we have seen ongoing and increasingly intractable conflicts in many parts of the world, horrific terrorist attacks with ever increasing death tolls, and the breakdown of what we have always assumed to be the normal workings of parliamentary democracy with campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic fuelled by lies and defamation more than ever before.  (I appreciate that for many people politics has always been the questionable art of lying more effectively than your opponents but never in my recollection has it been as pronounced as during the EU referendum in the UK and the Presidential nomination process in the US where the deployment of demonstrable facts has actually proved detrimental to the campaign.)  The regular untimely deaths of a galaxy of superstar celebrities has just served as a dusting of bitter icing on an increasingly unpleasant tasting cake.

So, not a great time to be peddling one’s wares as a writer of humorous prose one might think.  Or is it?

The great film director and screenwriter Billy Wilder said “If you’re going to tell people the truth, be funny or they’ll kill you”.  In Medieval England, jesters were used by those in power not just to make them laugh but to tell them the unpleasant truths that others would baulk from for fear of losing their heads.  More recently, in the Second World War, during the long, dark hours of the Blitz, entertainers – my own father among them – would go down into the bomb shelters and underground stations where families cowered in fear of their lives and put on shows to lift their spirits.

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It is, paradoxically perhaps, at times like these when good comedy is needed more than ever.  The more unstable the world becomes – the more ridiculous its alleged representatives; the more bizarre its democratic outcomes; the more extreme its problems – the more we need to be able to laugh at ourselves and, with due respect and affection, at each other.  As Joseph Heller did in the sixties and Amis (per et fils) did in the seventies and eighties, we need to poke a stick into the ants’ nest and chuckle at the inhabitants as they rush out, scurrying in all directions and none. Ultimately, it will be our ability to find humour in our differences rather than hate that will raise us above the nihilistic Dementors who seek to divide us and rule.  It is time to fight back – to reclaim all that is special about our culture and civilisation – with the wittily wielded pen rather than the savagery of the sword.

 

This post is brought to you by Jon Teckman.

Con Temporary Fiction

Let’s use the word “unpack” in a contemporary way, by unpacking the word “contemporary”.

1630s, from Medieval Latin contemporarius, from Latin com- “with” (see com-) + temporarius “of time,” from tempus “time, season, portion of time” (see temporal (adj.)). Meaning “modern, characteristic of the present” is from 1866. http://www.etymonline.com/

But what are “modern characteristics”? The world moves so fast.  I almost added “these days”, but people have always felt that. Luddites who destroyed machinery putting them out of work; American pioneers watching from wagons as steam trains thundered across the prairies; grandparents shown by teenagers how to use technology.

Most writers want their fiction to have a decent shelf life, retaining meaning for future generations. Some set off specifically to capture a zeitgeist, (Irving Walsh; Malcolm Bradbury). Other, perhaps more elegant authors couldn’t have foreseen how they would quietly resound down the ages. Most people can respond to Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy, through sequels, spin offs or Colin Firth’s torso, whether or not they’ve read Pride and Prejudice, because even in a more equal world we’d all still like marriages with love and money. Universal subjects and her economical, clear writing style explain why Jane Austen’s 19th century novels still have contemporary resonance and the individual personalities she creates transcend her sexist world.

Other assumptions date with more damage. In CS Lewis’s otherwise wonderful Narnia series the imagery of The Last Battle is repugnant to us today, as its blonde, upright Archenlanders and Narnians fight the sly, cruel, dark skinned, hook nosed Calormenes.  Fantasy doesn’t have to be like that – try Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, written between 1958 and 1966, for some more acceptable shivers that have worn better.

I had a Puffin book as a child, in which mothers collected their children “in their Minis and Vivas and little Fiats”. I remember that sentence perhaps because the cadence runs off the tongue, but also because my mother had a Viva. However, what the author wanted to show was school picking up time. If he’d left out the Vivas the sentence would work as well in 2016 as it did in 1970. (I’m afraid both author and title have slipped my contemporary mind.)

Elizabeth Jane Howard’s brilliant The Long View (1956) cleverly avoids such issues by knowing it’s not contemporary. The sections reverse through 1950, 1942, 1937, 1927 and the book ends where the story began in 1926. The plot settles on significant moments for the heroine, gradually revealing how she got to where she is “now” (in fact it doesn’t end: “… she was living; and so unable to escape from the passionate gravity of the present, which physically, is always now….My new life, she thought, and sat down to it.” Period details from each section catch the eye – how the characters travel, or what they drink. In 1937, Imogen’s flatmate deems her hair clean enough for a date because “you washed it two days ago”. It was normal to wash hair only once or twice a week right up to the 1980s, but not to wash it for a date in 2016 would be anachronistic.

It’s worth finding Frozen Summer, by Crysse Morrison, (2004) on Amazon. Like many novels, it involves time. The heroine has amnesia after an accident. She returns from hospital to a family and home she doesn’t recognise and must learn to re love. She isn’t even sure about her name, which may be Kirsty or Kate. The novel works well and the feelings remain universal, but not long after publication the author’s intention was ambushed by an unforeseeable snare. Kirsty or Kate’s maiden name is Middleton: “not noticeable but not completely anonymous”. Well, until Prince William met that other Kate, anyway.

There are advantages in setting a date.  Joanna Cannon’s The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, published 2016, takes place over two months in the unprecedentedly hot summer of 1976. She can play around with chart hits, makes of car and ice cream as much as she likes as long as they’re true to 1976, and yet the emotions (coming of age) and the issues (missing people, misguided accusations of paedophilia) resonate very strongly with a 21st century readership.

Lots of novels, past and present, feature (or don’t feature) missing people. The internet makes trying to find them duller and easier. That’s why The Trouble with Goats and Sheep works well in 1976 but couldn’t in 2016. Frozen Summer refers only to an “Amstrad” in the study although the characters do send emails. Clem Chambers’ fascinating recently reissued Dial Up for Murder is probably most meaningful to those who remember when – not so many years ago – you couldn’t use the telephone and surf the net at the same time. I set my novel The Infinity Pool in 2010-2011 on a Greek island which only had very unreliable broadband. Just one year later, the laptops had come out in the bars and the story wouldn’t have been possible. J K Rowling sidesteps the problem by noting computers don’t work for magic communities (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). The limitations rather than the possibilities of technology may explain why so many distinguished contemporary novelists have set their most recent work in the past – Helen Dunmore; Julian Barnes; Kate Atkinson.

And my point is? It’s dangerous to use specific contemporary details such as brands. Instead use background events to pinpoint time (although, at the time of writing this, political events in Britain are moving so fast you’d be pinpointing nano-seconds).  But well written prose dealing with universal themes has permanence. In 200 years, will your novel be as contemporary as Jane Austen’s?

 

This post is brought to you by Jessica Norrie.