Writing about interesting times…

‘A week is a long time in politics’ Harold Wilson said around the time of the sterling crisis of 1964, whilst back in 1886 Liberal politician Joseph Chamberlain said: ‘In politics, there is no use in looking beyond the next fortnight’. Chamberlain is also the likely source of what has become known as “the Chinese curse” ‘May you live in interesting times.’

Post the Brexit win for the leave campaign in the UK’s recent EU referendum, we are most certainly living in interesting times and for the 48 % that voted remain it feels like a curse.

The UK is set to undergo a seismic shift that will fundamentally change the country’s outlook, economy and potentially its very make up as Scotland looks to break away.

There has been negative campaigning on both sides of the argument with many lies such as a promise that on leaving our payments to the EU would be redirected to the NHS.

A particular low point was UKIP’s anti-immigration poster that consisted of the headline “Breaking Point” alongside Nigel Farage with a backdrop of a supposed tide of immigrants that echoed archive footage of a Nazi death march.

Racist attacks have increased, and sadly the impressive Labour MP Jo Cox has lost her life.

Divisions have arisen between friends, families and neighbours, the young and old, north and south, rich and poor and in the immediate aftermath there is no obvious way that people can come together so that rifts can heal.

The media is talking of post-truth politics and it turns out that there is no law against lying during campaigns. Who knew? “Leaders, not liars” said one placard at a recent anti-Brexit demo.

The UK is in a state of flux and when political changes occur at such a rapid pace it can be difficult to make sense of where we are and where we are going.

Fiction that is set in the time it was written can offer a unique window on how the world was and how people lived at a particular time. For instance, Jane Austen’s fiction provides insights into Regency England, its class structure, observance of manners and the pressure to marry well (rather than for love) in order to guarantee a steady and sufficient income.

How we live now, the issues that matter and the difficulties we currently face will be evident in the contemporary fiction that is currently being written. Fiction is a way of processing the world. A novel, created by its author, is made up and yet this process of observance, development and use of story can reveal the truth.

In my own work I am often drawn to subjects in order to discover what I believe. My short stories have looked at issues such as infidelity, debt and assisted suicide. Whilst my recent novel, I Came to Find a Girl, a psychological thriller set in Nottingham about a young artist and her “relationship” with a convicted serial killer looks at drugged date rape – a crime that is far more common than murder but also harder to prove.

Many famous writers have spoken out about Brexit. Crime writer Peter James condemned ‘lying politicians’ for the Brexit ‘tragedy’, and Kazuo Ishiguro is angry at Cameron for allowing ‘such a vastly complex, far-reaching, destiny-shaping decision to be made, not through our time-honoured processes of parliamentary democracy’ but through a referendum – a view echoed by Philip Pullman. He believes a referendum shouldn’t have ‘any place at all in a parliamentary democracy’.

Whatever comes to pass, there is no doubt that elements of the UK’s current turmoil will seep into my own and other writers’ fiction. We live in interesting times and these times will I am sure produce some interesting fiction.


This post is brought to you by Jaq Hazell


One thought on “Writing about interesting times…

  1. Great article making links between contemporary affairs and literature. Your paragraph about fiction set in the time when it’s written previews remarks I’ll be making in next week’s BritFic blogpost, Jane Austen included (what a reliable exemplar she is). But probably Trollope’s “The Way We Live Now” is the ultimate in fiction “of its time”, and has the best title! For distinguished writers commenting, also see Ian McKewan in Saturday’s Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/09/country-political-crisis-tories-prime-minister This discussion will run and run!


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