Someone once told me that the year should be left vague so the book does not become ‘dated’. Really? For historical fiction the era is, by definition, essential. To be topical, Call the Midwife is, importantly, true life story of the 1950s. Ian McEwan’s Saturday is a specific day in 2003, and A Week in December (2007) by Sebastian Faulks reflects society as it was then. On the other hand, fantasy or science fiction might be anytime in the future, anywhere, bounded only by the author’s and reader’s imagination.
I can only assume this person was thinking of a particular genre where a book packed with eternal truths could belong to the ‘here and now’, keep fresh for a few years and not exceed its sell by date. But to keep this illusion, so many references would have to be excluded. I struggled with this. Almost always I like to be clear on the time – and the place.
When writing Gypsies Stop tHere I deliberately made it fairly obvious, eluding to Tony Blair and George W Bush for example, when it was written – about 2007. Laws relating to Gypsies and Travellers and relationships between them and mainstream society are pivotal to the story. It presents a snapshot in time; some aspects have stood still, others have changed – like the government! Maybe, as time passes it will mature, not become out of date. As the real-life situation evolves, and perceptions shift, I hope people will be intrigued to see how unbelievable some things were, even five years ago. As it says in the notice that the activist, young Natalie, puts up on Appley Green notice board, ‘How will future generations look back …? Are we any better?’ Think of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and, more recently, The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Since writing this, my first novel, Channel 4’s Big Fat Gypsy Weddings have come and, fortunately, gone; Dale Farm in Essex hit the headlines all over the world; many Gypsies have published their own memoirs. When I researched and wrote this book I had academic studies; real life encounters and a few scarce books to work with (all listed in the Bibliography). We have indeed moved on and I hope that will add to the interest in reading Gypsies Stop tHere and No Gypsies Served now and in the future.
As for Shades of Appley Green– this is set in the present day, for sure, around 2011. It is not a documentary, it is meant to be entertaining, but again it does reflect some current social issues, the plight of many old folk, the way single parenthood can be a struggle and how traffic can seriously affect the way a village functions as a community. These themes are not the story but do provide the background. In five years’ time all these views of village life may have changed, while human emotions stay pretty much the same.
Of course the location matters! No argument there, surely. Classics like Wuthering Heights, Lorna Doone; Thomas Hardy and Sir Walter Scott and thousands of other writers prove that. With their strong and wonderful sense of place, I like to think of Anita Shreve’s many brilliant novels with their robust setting in New Hampshire, each book set in a different era but often the same stretch of coast, the same building. This adds a whole new dimension to each of her novels, in my view.
I hope to make a series of novels set in Appley Green, where each one will connect with the others. Some familiar characters will pop up. There is a raft of characters in the first one of this series, Shades of Appley Green – after all, it is a village! They have lived curious lives but cannot all be developed in one story and I hope each book will leave people wanting more. That’s the theory anyway! I certainly want to find out more about them which makes me just itch to get on with the next book.
Gypsies Stop tHere is about to be reprinted and is available on Kindle. No Gypsies Served is available as paperback. Shades of Appley Green is a Kindle book will be available as paperback in about two weeks time but can be pre-ordered. All three are set in Appley Green, as it happens.
Gypsies Stop tHere on Amazon No Gypsies Served on Amazon Shades of Appley Green on Kindle