Monday, 4 July 2011

Apparently I am writing "history"

although I did not particularly think of it as that. I have lived through the times I am writing about. It is not so very different from now - although different enough.
Yesterday a neighbour introduced me to one of her visitors with the words, "This is Cat - you know the one who writes to the papers - oh and she writes other things too." The visitor, waiting for her partner to inspect the solar panel installation on the neighbour's house, started to ask the usual questions.
Eventually I gave her a very brief outline of the plot of the last novel. She listened, nodding and then said to me, "It sounds great, really exciting, but why didn't they just use their mobile?"
It brought me up with a jolt. I had not told her what year the action takes place. She assumed it was the present day.
I explained that the action takes place in 1969. There are no mobile phones.
"Oh, you're writing historical novels!"
I suppose I am. If I set the story in the present day the plot would have to be different. There would be mobile phones. There would be e-mail, Skype, long distance telephone calls would be common place etc
I considered whether I should set the story in the 21st C. It is based on a real life event told to me in the course of doing some research about something else entirely. I wondered if it would be better to bring it into the present day. The answer had to be no. It would be possible but less probable.
When I wrote another book, the one for the Whirlwind, her father said to me, "She tells me there are no computers in it." For the Whirlwind it was a novelty that a book written now should have no mention of computers. The action takes place in the 1950's. There is no need of computers.
I like using a computer. It allows me to work from home and care for my father. I like e-mail and Twitter and I post the occasional note on Facebook. My cousin 'phoned from London last night and talked to me for almost half an hour as we sorted out a problem with his father. Friends and neighbours have Skype. News can circle the globe in a matter of seconds.
It is possible to write hugely successful novels using all these things but the plot has to fit comfortably into the landscape. My landscape was different.
So, am I writing "history"? Perhaps I am. What I am trying to write is the story.

6 comments:

Sarah Pearson said...

This is slightly off-topic, but you've reminded me of the time my daughter brought home a picture book of history from primary school. One of the events depicted was Live Aid. I remember rushing home from my Saturday job at the age of 15 to watch it on television. Just 17 years later it was 'history'.

That was the first time I realised I had become part of the 'previous' generation.

Anonymous said...

Everything is history - some of it is just more history than the rest.
Live Aid was in my dotage and 1969 was my middle-age! Bob C-S

jeanfromcornwall said...

I remember when one of my offspring asked "Did you have to wear long dresses and pinafores when you were a little girl in olden days?" They were "doing" Victorians at school. That was when my Mother decided to start writing her books about her childhood, illustrated with family photos.

It is hard for the young ones to get a sense of how fast, and also how slowly time passes, and, the more opportunities they can be given to see events in their context, the better they will be able to understand.

JO said...

It's your last line that's the most vital - what you are telling is story. A story set in its right time.

If you set it at another time it would be a different story.

So does it matter if you call it history or not (when my children were small they thought being alive in the 60s was synonymous to remembering the Romans!). Story is everything.

widdershins said...

1969 - a historical novel ... I had to chortle at that.

I suppose that once a century has ended, everything that happened in it is considered fair game for an historical novel.

It boggles my mind that babies born in 1990 are now adults!!! Who's responsible for that I ask you?

catdownunder said...

Possibly their parents Widdershins but yes, it is strange to think that 1969 is regarded as history - look what Sarah says about Live Aid!
Jean I think you are right - time is an immensely difficult concept (even for adults)
And Jo, you are right too. It is the story which counts.