Friday, November 12, 2021

Present, Tense

by Abir 

You’re writing a novel set in the current time. Do you include covid, politics, climate change among the background or foreground parts of the environment? If so, why? If not, why?


Good question.


I think part of the answer to this question comes down to the motivations behind why an author writes what they write. Some authors write mainly to entertain – to offer readers escapism from tough and difficult times. If so, it’s easy to understand why an author wouldn’t want to deal with the ‘bad news’ of the real world, especially if their readership has come to see their books as a  blessed relief from the pressures of their lives.


Other writers like to present the world to their readers, warts and all. For them, a gritty realism is key. Doing so without reference to covid or climate change would be increasingly difficult.


Then there’s another group, one that I fall squarely into, who use their writing to explore social issues. Speaking for myself, I do it because what motivates me to write are what I perceive to be social or political injustices. As such, and despite the fact that my books so far have all been set in 1920s India, all of them have been political books as well as crime novels. And the politics that they put under the microscope are as much the politics of today as they are those of the colonial era. So for me keeping politics out of my books would be a non-starter. Other issues though -pandemics and climate change - I’ve not had to deal with, not historically. 


But all that’s changing.


The book I’m currently writing is set in 2024 in the run up to the next US elections. At its heart it deals with political issues of radicalisation, populism and the collapse of the American Dream for so many people who once believed in it. But what of covid and the environment? Let’s take those in reverse – what’s happening to the environment is an intensely political subject and so it will feature in my book. It has to. Its impacts are social and economic and global and I need to talk about it.


Covid on the other hand feels slightly different. Yes, it has and will continue to have a political and socio-economic impact, but to me it is first and foremost a humanitarian catastrophe, and that’s something I feel less qualified to write about. Having said that, I can’t just ignore it. I’ll make reference to it, probably obliquely, but it’s not something I want to deal with head on. I’m more interested in writing about the ongoing societal ramifications of covid than the current human cost, because that, I feel, would be mentally and emotionally exhausting. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s all still so raw. We’re still in the middle of the maelstrom and I’m not sure I’ve got a handle on it. 


The conclusion I draw from reading the posts of my colleagues from earlier this week is that different writers will naturally be drawn to different aspects of writing. The world as it is will impact each of us differently and shape our writing in different ways, and that’s the beauty of crime fiction writing. It’s such a broad church that we can offer everything from pure escapism to damning social commentary while giving you a thrilling plot and more murder victims than you could shake a stick at. And that’s why I believe it’s the most popular genre of fiction today.


Have a good weekend, and stay safe.

1 comment:

Susan C Shea said...

Abir, your comments on why you write - exposing social and political injustices - resonate in the NYT Review today. (Congratulations!) The reviewer really got your theme and the fact that it left a "bitter" aftertaste is a, well, yeah, correct response. (Congratulations, twice!)