And The Next Creative Trend Is…

London

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If you try to jump on a bandwagon, lead times usually mean that you’ve already missed it – the carnival has passed. But certain trends do emerge that can catch your creative project and lift it up, if you happen to hit at the right time.

We’re none of us clairvoyant, but there are cyclical trends from which you can benefit; one is to do with the economy – in tough times people seek escapist entertainment (the MGM musicals cycle was born of the Great Depression). It’s not surprising that the first Harry Potter book appeared at a time when divorces in the UK hit their peak. Now ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ catches the mood once more by ignoring the fact that though it is set in depression-era America it’s about cryptozoological Pokeman-catching, with not a glimpse of darkness anywhere. It’s largely inventive and fun, and in terms of character development it’s a huge improvement on anything JK Rowling has tackled before, but it still doesn’t quite have a story.

It also explains the upcoming guaranteed success of ‘La La Land’, which gloriously restores old-fashioned escapism, although it’s smart enough to do something new by ditching post-modern irony for heartfelt realism that just happens to be interspersed with fantastical sequences.

This cyclical retreat into safe zones might also explain why most new fiction seems to be set in the past. Whatever happened to state-of-the-nation novels and short stories? (Whatever happened to short stories, for that matter?) Past fiction should almost have its own category now.

As we enter a new era it seems as if the UK and the US are going to diverge, with Britain not-exactly-separated from the EU (which would be to no-one’s benefit) and the US facing a return to Bush-era politics. So where will all of that leave fiction? I think we’ll see many more dystopias, but fewer self-reflexive novels and more outlooking ones, especially those in which world events intrude into our lives, more fantasies, even the return of the horror novel, more blurred lines between genres.

Me, I’d love to see a return to the kind of brave experimental fiction that abounded in the 1960s, when the most extraordinary books sold big numbers. Tell me about what you’d like to read right now.

12 comments on “And The Next Creative Trend Is…”

  1. Davem says:

    I’m a big fan of the worlds created by Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker … long may such fantasy continue.

  2. Charles says:

    and in terms of character development it’s a huge improvement on anything JK Rowling has tackled before, but it still doesn’t quite have a story.

    Are you trying to say that Rowling’s past books don’t have a story? I seem to remember you saying that you have not even finished the first Harry Potter book.

    As far as short stories go, it’s hard to sell something that can be read in ten or twenty minutes, and a collection of them has no appeal to me. Why buy a bunch of small, unfulfilling stories when you can get one big one that doesn’t leave you hanging? I certainly wouldn’t pay money for that, and I don’t see why anyone else would, either.

  3. Charles says:

    Oh, and what I like to read is stuff that ends happy and doesn’t have me wincing through the story at all the horrific stuff that happens. That has always been what I like, and I don’t think that will ever change. It’s why I like your Bryant and May books, but (based on descriptions I’ve read), have little interest in any of your other works.

  4. admin says:

    I’ve seen all the films, Charles, because I have to see them for BAFTA voting purposes, but, while they’re teeming with charming incident they have no character development and very little story beyond Good VS Bad. Worse things happen in Bryant & May than in most of my other books.
    If you’re worried about anything upsetting happening in books, or bothering with short stories, then you miss Guy De Maupassant, Dostoyevsky, Zola, Paul Bowles, Ruth Rendell, Shirley Jackson, Daphne Du Maurier…I think I’ll stop there. Although I recommend you try the best magical schoolboy book, ‘The Once and Future King’ by TE White.

  5. Rachel Green says:

    What I wouldn’t give to read one more Iain Banks.

  6. Martin Tolley says:

    What Rachel said

  7. Davem says:

    Totally agree Rachel

  8. Ian Mason says:

    I couldn’t disagree with Charles more. I’d say that I first read over 50% of my favourite authors in short story form in collections and anthologies, which lead to me actively seeking out longer form work from them.

    As far as Iain Banks goes, I couldn’t agree more, a new work would be most welcome – if deeply spooky. He was a friend of a friend and I had a couple of opportunities to meet him that I couldn’t make it to. “I’m sure we’ll catch up eventually”, I said to myself at the time. Oops…

    As to what I’d *really* like to read now? A “Titus Groan” or “Wasp Factory” from somebody that I’d never heard of before.

  9. Jan says:

    I reckon Mr. F that your short stories might be better than your novels. During my varied career I read lots of your stories sitting in easy chairs in the big Charing Cross road bookshops.(Fowler head in hands thinks has this woman actually BOUGHT one of my books she’s like,some sort of internet imp a hobbloggoblin she’s never bought a book of mine in her life ) The stories were gr8 cos there was,such variation. Some were very sci-fi like. And,when you were London writing the one about the house,was it Vauxhall where developers were after the land and the lady was,saved by the history of the site saved by the history of the land the house deeds. The kids on the underground with the lady looking after them The story up at Kentish about a particular site. One that I thought about a lot I think was,called the lighthouse. Where the,dad is grieving for his son and the msgs are on the internet. That was beautiful story made me cry that one did. And the weird ones where the people were in the pods bit like,the Matrix. Mind you that might not have been yours. No u write,a good short story you could have turned out, a good sci fi novel. That’s where I think tastes might turn now optimistic sci fi rather than dystopian futures the,Star Trek model for the future.

  10. Jan says:

    The Once and future king is an amazing book although it’s for youngsters there’s a paragraph near the,start of the book describing Guinivere before she go’s over the side with Lancelot that describes her character and the good stuff but this faithlessness like a flawed gem. Very insightful and not what you would expect in this particular story. One of me favourites.
    Camelot which was inspired by TOandFK is pretty good also!!

  11. SteveB says:

    Just on the short story point, it’s short sf stories I read as a kid from the Spectrum anthologies selected by Aldiss and Amis that I akways will remember. Eg tunnel under the world, or a planet named shayol. And Ballards shorts too. And some other of the most impactful books I have read were not so long. In this format, you can pack a real punch.

  12. Jan says:

    No you are right Steve sci fi novels get too big and authors get too carried away. I think that actually occurs within both the Pullman and Rowling novels discussed elsewhere on this blog. I loved the first part of His Dark materials but towards the later episodes of the story with the protagonists riding round on those wheelbarrow tricycle things and angels having punch ups. I started to scratch my head.

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