8 July 2014

Fings ain't wot they used to be

Things change. The world doesn't stand still. It might move slowly, especially when you're sitting in the middle and can't easily see the rotation, but it keeps on going.

As a writer, change provides an interesting problem. If I write about the present day (which I generally do) by the time a novel is ready for publishing it's at least two years on. Not long, you might think, but then consider the fact that a reader might not pick it up for several more years. So, a novel is a thing of its own time, regardless of whether it is purposefully historical or not. It has to have the clues within in that establish the setting and time otherwise it may not work for the reader.

Let me give you an example.
For many years, the telephone was a tethered device that required the close proximity of  the recipient in order to function. Mobile phones changed things fundamentally, making everyone acessible all the time regardless of location. This began to happen in 1985. The old tethered phone had been standard from the 1870's, it's had a long and honourable innings.

Communication is fundamental to our lives and particularly important when it comes to plotting crime thrillers. Before 1985, it wasn't possible to talk to someone unless they standing next to a telephone. If you were out and about, urgent calls had to be made using a phone box. Imagine! A box with a phone in it used to be the only game in town. If you were going to be late for your tea, you had to find one, stop the car, get out, fumble for coins, dial the number, push your coins in when you heard the pips and explain yourself. Most people, understandably, just turned up late.

A fundamental shift started in 1985. Plotting crime thrillers after that became different. Everything began to move more quickly.

In Proceeds of Crime, the second Jenny Parker novel, Jenny escapes from a brothel by fighting her way out. Then she hurtles down countless flights of stairs, away from her pursuer. Nothing, it seems, can prevent her getaway, she's much too quick. Wrong. The brothel keeper has phoned his mates who are waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs. Oh dear. In the modern world, post 1985, running away isn't as simple as it once was.

photo credit: Helena Nilsdotter via photopin cc