Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Drumbeat of War

The world is changing faster than you can write - technologically, politically, environmentally etc. How do you roll with the changes in your fiction? 
by Catriona
I thought I was being so jammy - setting a book in 1922 - no forensics, no mobile phones, no computers to worry about getting right. Hemlines, menus and current events were a doddle in comparison. 

There are three things you get wrong at your peril when writing about any period though: trains, birds and guns.  There will be letters.  I don't have many guns in the Dandy Gilver novels. I make sure any bird that sings would actually sing at that time of day, at that time of year, in that place. 
But I have made a mistake with a train. I had a train stopping at the right station at the right time on the right route, but then Dandy walked along the corridor and opened a carriage door. I got a few letters telling me that the train on that route that year had carriages opening right onto the platform. Oy.
I'm up to 1935 now and there have been technological changes. Dandy and Alec have tungsten torches now (electric!) and she's got a telephone extension in her sitting room. The environmental changes are minimal: there's a bit of talk about commercial softwood plantations, and there are some new houses dotted around - modest ones for roadworkers and villas for the middle class - but it's the politics of the 1930s that's most beginning to threaten my make-believe world of dilettante detectives.
To an extent I always did let the politics - and economics - into these stories, unrealistic as they are. The 1926 book took place during the General Strike and the striking miners played a part. And in The Reek of Red Herrings I tried to show the grinding harshness of the fisherfolk's lives in a shrinking industry. Even the circus book was about how a 1920s circus gets through the winter when there's no income (a lot of rabbit stew is involved). 

But it's getting very real now, in Europe, in 1935. My detective, Dandy, has two sons in their very early twenties and a husband too old to be enlisted, who will nevertheless want to serve in some capacity. And here it comes. 
I keep it out of the stories, largely. Dandy herself doesn't believe there will be another war. Some of that is maternal denial and some of it is that fact that if her husband takes one point of view she tends to take the other. And Hugh know. Here it comes. 
In the last book - i.e. the next book, just handed over to the editor - I found myself writing:
"... Except that nightclubs made me think of Berlin and I wondered if a trip to Vienna was a sensible idea. I wondered if any part of Europe was a sensible idea. ‘Luftwaffe’ still struck me as a comical word, but in the last month alone Germany had rejected disarmament and then there had been the business in Sudetenland. ‘They’ve won an election, Dandy,’ Hugh had said, reading the headlines. ‘Those Nazis have actually won at the ballot box now.’ .."
Here it comes. 


Ann said...

We are hearing the drumbeats once again, and it is terrifying. I escape into a book each day, trying to keep from worrying about things over which I've no control. I remember our discussions via text just prior to the Brexit debacle, and again on election day here.

Thank you, Catriona, for keeping us distracted with your wonderful stories of a another, not better but different, time.

Je suis inquiet et effrayƩ

Lori Rader-Day said...

Ugh, her boys. I love them all. I hope you keep writing them, even if you have to factor in real life.

RJ Harlick said...

It must send a chill up your spine, Catriona, as you are writing these words. You know the old adage about history repeating itself.... good post.

Cathy Ace said...

Timely piece - and challenges ahead I'm sure you're more than capable of facing. Drumbeats have their echoes, even when not everyone is listening, or can hear them.

Unknown said...

Chilling. Great post. Love the excerpt, though it scares me.

Susan C Shea said...

It's hard to escape war and warmongering, even in fiction as charming as yours. By the way, the herring fisheries in that book were kind of wild to read about. And I got chilly from reading about everyone dancing around in the bitter cold and rain. Set one in a warm place soon, please!