Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Books passed their read-by date?

I made a day trip to London recently for a talk and a book launch - which involved a trip by train from Cardiff to Paddington. A train line and a journey that feature in both my first two romantic suspense novels - Never Coming Home and Out of Sight Out of Mind. Looking out of the window it occurred to me that things have changed a bit since I wrote the books. The derelict buildings line side in Never Coming Home, just outside Hayes station, where Devlin has his encounter with Luce, have finally be demolished and replace with new flats and offices. And with new trains on the GWR line there are prominent notices informing passengers that they are on CCTV - so Madison's hope to avoid any cameras in Out of Sight Out of Mind is now a vain one. Life moves on.

I always find it interesting to check the publication date in the front of a book - that's an academic quirk as you have to cite it in references - but it can be quite illuminating, particularly if the book is a re-issue from an author's back list. Habits - in life and in writing - change. In many books that are twenty years old and more it is commonplace for all the characters to smoke - and they can light up in public places too. And, of course, the most glaring detail is technology - books without mobile phones and computers rapidly give the game away. It is not just the habits though. I find that heroes in older books can appear overbearing and domineering, which was the convention at the time to illustrate the protective alpha male. The world turns and things change.  Now the hero has to be strong and sensitive.

I find it interesting to read older stories and reflect on changes. Often a plot that is perfectly plausible would collapse with a single call from a mobile phone. Age doesn't change the calibre of the story, but it can change how you react to it. The overbearing hero or delicate stay-at-home heroine would not have raised any eyebrows at the time, but can now make you feel a little uncomfortable. And it can be quite a shock if you do not realise that what you are reading is not a recent release.

It pays to look at the date.