The radio plays in my kitchen every morning as I make my breakfast, but mostly, until I’ve had my first coffee, I’m too brain dead to take in what people are saying. This morning, though, something penetrated the fuzz and made me take notice.
They were talking about the way literature reflects world trends and events, and how long it takes the literary world to catch up with the real one. The consensus seemed to be four or five years – so it looks as if serious literary fiction (this was a serious discussion!) will be dealing with world recession, potential economic collapse etc etc etc round about 2015 to 2016.
Is this an opportunity, I asked myself. Presumably people who write those serious books need more thinking time than us lesser mortals who produce stuff which people read for entertainment rather than for self-improvement.
Does this time lag mean we can jump in ahead of the game?
I ask because I’ve just been working with a debut author on a novel she describes as a literary post-apocalyptic thriller. To my mind it’s more thriller than literary, and all the better for it. It does deal with big issues, but it doesn’t preach its message; it delivers it through the people who live through the issues and find a way to survive them.
I’ll be interested to see what the literary establishment makes of the economic gloom and one-crisis-after-another scenario we’ve been living through for three or four years – when it finally gets around it it, that is. Meanwhile, wouldn’t it be great if someone who writes real page-turners got a handle on the situation and started to answer some of the questions which no one really seems to face up to? Like, what actually happens when a country goes bankrupt? What does the government do? What does anyone do? How does it affect ordinary people?
Topicality is something of a two-edged sword for fiction writers. Everyone wants their bestseller to be up-to-the-minute and in line with current events, but basing a plot on something that makes headlines in January could easily mean it’s become stale and old hat by August. The thing about the present situation is that it looks as if it may continue for a while – depressing to live through, but full of potential for a writer!