Bryant & May: In For The Long Run: Part 1
I first noticed a problem when I went back to check on a character’s name in Book 12 of my Bryant & May novels.
The character was using a Blackberry. As far as I know these devices have gone; nothing dates faster than technology. I flicked back through earlier books; a Fax machine turned up along with DVDs, flashdrives and things called ‘floppy discs’.
The problem quickly made itself known. The timeline of the books is continuous (most of the novels begin shortly after the last one ends) but the volumes are published yearly, so that ten years of books cover just ten weeks in the life of my police unit. And that means the technology sort of – slips. My detectives have been rushed from the first appearance of DNA testing to the arrival of Cloud backup in next to no time. As I’m now working on the nineteenth volume, two decades’ worth of technology and current events gets squeezed into a fiction-time period of about six months.
I find it odd that some readers expect your characters to age. I can’t allow each book to be set a year after the last in real time because by now my elderly detectives would be long dead.
To keep the illusion alive I avoid very topical references – who remembers Jedward now? – but there are some I can mention, like anti-capitalism riots, global warming, fashions, songs and long-running TV shows. And Cliff Richard, about whom the first joke was made back in the 1950s.
TONY HANCOCK: (To listless blood donor) Just think, Cliff Richard might get some of your blood! (aside) That’ll slow him down a bit.
The Golden Age authors could get away with creating closed worlds that had absolutely nothing to date them, but I feel modern crime writers need to acknowledge to the real world, otherwise it becomes noticeable by its sheer absence.
But there’s a balance to be struck. We absorb the main themes of the era (a shift to populism, conservatism, intolerance) without needing to go into the minutiae. I’ve written plenty of zeitgeist novels and believe me, nothing dates faster except satire.
Then there’s the matter of the author’s memory – mine is never very reliable, but with well over a hundred characters mentioned in past Bryant & May books it’s hard keeping track of them all. You can be sure that readers will be happy to explain any mistakes you’ve made. So the longer you go on with a series, the more complex it becomes, thematically flip-flopping, adding and removing characters – and before you know it you’re imprisoned by the world you have created.