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A PLACE WE USED TO LIVE IN...

Welcome today to a fellow Brit, the author stevie_carroll, posing an intriguing question about not only WHAT but WHEN fiction is set...


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Today's guest, Stevie Carroll, was born in England's Steel City, and raised in a village on the boundary of the White and Dark Peaks, nourished by a diet of drama and science fiction from the BBC and ITV, and a diverse range of books, most notably Diane Wynne-Jones and The Women's Press, from the only library in the valley. After this came a university education in Scotland, while writing mostly non-fiction for various underground bisexual publications under various aliases, before creativity was stifled by a decade of day-jobs.

Now based in Hampshire, Stevie has rediscovered the joys of writing fiction, managing to combine thoughts of science fiction, fantasy and mysteries with a day-job in the pharmaceuticals industry and far too many voluntary posts working with young people, with animals and in local politics. The Monitors, in Noble Romance's Echoes of Possibilities is Stevie's first published story, with other longer tales at various stages of development.



BLURB: Stuart is a monitor: a human back-up to the computer controls on a deep space colony transport. Working alone for months at a time, with long periods between shifts spent in cryogenic stasis, his contact with other people is limited to the change-over of shifts, and brief stays on distant planets between jobs. Born blind into a universe where genetic 'abnormalities' are screened out at conception, Stuart has come to see himself as superior to the 'normals' in some respects, but lacking in others that have nothing to do with sight. He dreams of an academic research post, a family and a permanent home, always wondering what woman will love 'a guy like him'.

Claire, deaf since a childhood illness, has broken away from her overprotective family, and wants to see as much of the universe as possible. Having spotted Stuart from afar before joining the ship's crew, she is delighted when their shifts overlap, and is unafraid to demonstrate her attraction to him. The instantaneous, intense chemistry between them breaks down Stuart's inhibitions about sex on duty—and on a first date, at that—but will Claire willingly put her travel plans aside until he's ready to travel with her?


***


The Recent Past: A Place We Used To Live In

Today's topic is those stories that fall into the gap between contemporary and historical fiction.

***


The 20th Century seems to me to have been a time of greater change from decade to decade than any previous era. The decades are each assumed to have their own feel, and even get named accordingly, the Roaring 20's being the first to spring to mind. But in reality times don't change the instant the third digit in the year number goes up by one, and some years have far more of a personality than others.

So why do I write about the recent past? About events that happened within my lifetime? I'm now in the middle of my second novel set during years when I was at school, although in both stories events from the past (before I was born) have immense influence on the characters in their present. I'm writing in the main about characters who are considerably older than I was at that time, so it's not about shirking research. If anything, my research is complicated by a lack of easily obtainable source materials, because the 70's and 80's are only just becoming of interest to historians, and even then what interests historians isn't always what will affect the day-to-day lives of my characters.


Someone else suggested that perhaps I like writing stories with a mystery element set before mobile phones and widespread internet access, because I want to make the investigations more complicated, but I'm not sure that's the case. Before the internet there were more libraries, and more brick-and-mortar bookshops for my characters to conduct research in. Before mobile phones, there were red telephone boxes scattered liberally over the countryside, and it was possible to be naughty and use AA or RAC telephone boxes for other calls, provided one had the correct key.


That does, of course, assume that the bookshop or library had the correct book on its shelves, and that the telephone would be answered by someone with the required information, but doesn't the suspense involved there make for more interesting reading than a protagonist simply wading through pages of Google links?


Part of the fascination comes from being able to use half-remembered cultural references. There's no fear of dating the story the way there would be with a proper contemporary story, but it's possible to write with a nod to contemporary readers. 'See, these people are like you used to be, do you miss it, or do you prefer how things are now?' Then there's the realisation of how far we've come: I've written about 1988, when Section 28 was striking fear into many a queer writer or educator's heart, and my current story flashes back from 1976 to 1966 and earlier, when the law was an even more fearful reality for gay men especially.

Sometimes it was easier back then, of course. Cars could be fixed without needing to be plugged into a computer, and people knew each other's business, making asking questions much easier for the personable detective. Although those same people might be fiercely protective of their neighbour's business when questioned by an outsider they weren't kindly disposed towards. And the villain or anti-hero wanting to change identity could do so with no risk of being unmasked by a computer check.


In summary, life wasn't any easier or harder for the detectives of back then, it was different. That difference is what makes it so much fun to write about other times.


What next? Shall I write primarily about the 1990's or the 1960's? Shall I write another SF story that owes a lot to TV of the 1970s to the 1990s (as I have done with two SF romances so far)? Shall I write an actually contemporary story, using my knowledge of what dates a story to make this one particularly fresh? Or shall I write a 'real' historical story, set 50 or more years ago?

Only time will tell...

***


Happy Birthday, Clare! And thank you for letting me ramble here!

Stevie Carroll: Not Your Usual Boy (or girl) Meets Girl (or boy)!
Author of The Monitors in Echoes of Possibilities.
Online Home at http://stevie-carroll.livejournal.com/


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AND JUST FOR FUN, A FICTION PROMPT CALL...!!

Like to stretch your writing fingers after Christmas' excesses? Take the prompt "A NEW RESOLUTION" and write something for the visitors this month. It can be anything from a flashfic 3 sentences to a drabble of 100 or so, or even more. Any genre, any theme, any rating, any character(s). Maybe ones you already love, maybe the chance to try on a new character for size.

Depending on how many (if any!) contributions we get, I'll post them during the month or all in the last week. Just send them in to me at clarelondon11 AT yahoo.co.uk and we'll go from there :).




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Follow this month with Clare - and the goodies so far:

JAN 01: A FREE short from me, revisiting Nic and Aidan from Sparks Fly.
JAN 01: A huge selection of delicious m/m icons from luscious_words.
JAN 02: Why I want to be a Bond villain! by chrissymunder.

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Check up on the original post and the Guest Schedule for January HERE.

Want to join in but missed the original call? Email me at clarelondon11 AT yahoo.co.uk and I'll happily find you a space ♥

NOTE: most pictures chosen by me and credited where known, others may be used without direct permission, please contact me with any queries/concerns.

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Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
chrissymunder
Jan. 3rd, 2011 01:12 pm (UTC)
What an interesting question to start the day. I'm torn between being interested in seeing what you'd give us for the 1960s and a contemporary work.

It is interesting how vaguely fringish activities were simpler before all the new technology. As you say, far easier to disappear and start over somewhere else as a new person. A multi-jurisdictional serial killer must mourn the days when there was no VICAP, or computers to aid departments in connecting the crimes. And let's not talk about the new breed of wrongdoers that can't resist the urge to update their Facebook.
stevie_carroll
Jan. 3rd, 2011 04:43 pm (UTC)
The 1960s would be fun, but Jake Arnott has done gay villains in that era so well already. Contemporary presents all the challenges you mention, so I'd have to come up with new ways for my characters to go underground (possibly literally: I've always wanted to write a story set in a former secret nuclear bunker.

Thanks for commenting.
jordan_c_price
Jan. 3rd, 2011 01:41 pm (UTC)
What a timely post--I was just thinking about setting something in the 70s or 80s. And while it is advantageous to not have cell phones and Internet available, I don't think it makes a story "easier" to write at all. If anything, you've got to be careful not to let small, incorrect details slip in, stuff that's become so ubiquitous in the last 20 years that we don't even notice it sneaking in to the story.
charliecochrane
Jan. 3rd, 2011 02:53 pm (UTC)
Depends if the 70s and 80s are vivid in your mind. *g* My daughters are always amazed when I regale them with stories of half day closing, butchers never being open on Mondays, etc.

stevie_carroll
Jan. 3rd, 2011 04:51 pm (UTC)
Half day closing is a good one! And although there were banks and post offices in more villages, the banks didn't necessarily open every day, and it was difficult to arrange transactions if you weren't a customer of that particular bank (there being so many more then too!).

Have you told your daughters about the problems for women opening bank accounts right up into the 70s?
charliecochrane
Jan. 3rd, 2011 04:54 pm (UTC)
No, I haven't. I'm not sure they'd be that interested (and the one who would be interested would already know). Phillistines...
stevie_carroll
Jan. 3rd, 2011 05:05 pm (UTC)
Kids today... Although when I was in my very early 20s I had an 18 year old lodger who refused to take an interest in any TV or music produced before he had been old enough to appreciate it new.
stevie_carroll
Jan. 3rd, 2011 04:48 pm (UTC)
More stories should be set in the 70s and 80s! But you're right about the little details. Even though I've got far too nitpicky about other people getting things wrong, it took a lot of discussion elsewhere to establish how my protagonist would get hold of a certain item that is far easier to buy these days ;-)

Thanks for commenting.


charliecochrane
Jan. 3rd, 2011 02:55 pm (UTC)
Interesting thoughts, Stevie. The past always surprises me. we tend to think that things are much easier/more available now than they used to be, but in 1908 there were something like 6 postal deliveries a day in London. And Post Offices opened on sunday mornings in some places.
stevie_carroll
Jan. 3rd, 2011 04:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks for those reminders too! Before I started writing my current story, it had slipped my mind that sometimes the postal service was actually more reliable then.
josephine_myles
Jan. 3rd, 2011 08:57 pm (UTC)
Fascinating post, Stevie. I've often wondered about setting things before mobile phones. I find in contemporary stories so often you have to work out a way to get the damn things incapacitated so your characters can't have things too easy.

And yes, it is very hard writing internet research in a dynamic fashion - much better to be out there plodding around and meeting fascinating people!

Recent gay history is a fascinating topic too. I remember growing up with those awful AIDS warnings on the telly all the time and newpaper headlines about the gay plague...
stevie_carroll
Jan. 3rd, 2011 09:18 pm (UTC)
Thanks.

The plodding around and meeting people throws in all kinds of minor-character dynamics too. My current story has a whole bunch of them that only ever appear as voices on the other end of a pay-phone, but they all seem to have developed distinct personalities and outside lives. Most of which just gets in the way of my protagonist's investigation. ;-)

I remember the adverts too, and keep depressing myself thinking what will happen to certain of my 1970s characters after the story ends...
luscious_words
Jan. 4th, 2011 01:44 am (UTC)
What a fascinating post. Particularly since I'm a fan of classic movies and keep thinking that many of them would not translate well now because too many things have changed. From technology to hours of business to purchasing alcohol on Sunday...life is very different now than it once was.
stevie_carroll
Jan. 4th, 2011 06:52 am (UTC)
Thanks. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Events in my stories tend to be dictated by the need to fit in around set hours or days for different activities, only a few of which are still valid now (such as market days and rural buses).

The alcohol one is useful, though. It leads to more of my characters being in the pub at set times, especially on Sunday when they drift in from the village churches (hotbeds for gossip exchange) and stay for lunch (which is the only time the pub does food). If I need them to stay longer, of course, they can always have a lock-in, which the local bobby will studiously avoid (usually by being there).
essayel
Jan. 6th, 2011 03:46 pm (UTC)
This is an interesting piece. As a reader, I'm generally happy to suspend my disbelief and swallow anachronisms at a gulp as long as the plot is good and the characters are engaging. But I know that there are other readers who demand 100% accuracy or they don't enjoy the story. I find such people scary. Historicals are just as 'foreign' as stories set in other countries and history is definitely what one remembers. The problem I've found with writing more recent historical stuff is that what I remember about [say] 1970 may not be what a reader who was alive at the time remembers, whereas if one writes something set in 1342 the only people who will slap you down over getting little details wrong are experts, and other writers, of course.

Another Brit writer to support! :D

stevie_carroll
Jan. 6th, 2011 04:41 pm (UTC)
An excellent point there. I'm aiming as much for 'how people remember things' as for how things actually were, and I must admit to the occasional cheat for the sake of the plot. Such as Bakewell having a couple of extra shops that I don't think were there at the time. I invented two villages, and a stately home as well so people shouldn't expect 100% accuracy. ;-)

One day Brit writers will rule the world!
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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