I’ve just finished reading The Best Man to Die by Ruth Rendell. I picked the book up in a charity shop because I’ve enjoyed Ruth’s psychological thrillers. But this novel turned out to be an Inspector Wexford story (serve me right for not reading the blurb properly!).
After a few pages I had to check the title page to see when it was published – 1969. The book was plunging me into a world where fridges were the height of luxury (does anyone remember life without a fridge?) and wages were £20 a week. The book was full of prices (a top of the range set of false teeth cost £200 and played an important part in the book) and things that just don’t happen anymore – such as using phone boxes!
In the end I enjoyed the book as a social history of its era – a time I don’t really remember even though I was 6 when the book was written.
It also threw up two points that we should consider as writers:
- It’s very easy to make your stories sound ‘dated’ by including prices, wages, specific music etc. This can be an advantage if it’s important to the story that we know it is set in a specific year but a disadvantage if you’re resurrecting an old story for a new competition – your entry may seem a little tired if it’s referring to things that were current 5 years ago.
- Whenever we write we are creating evidence for the historians of the future. Whether our work is published or not someone may stumble upon it in the years to come and marvel at how primitive our lives were at the start of the 21st century!
And whilst I’m on the subject of Ruth Rendell, the Ruth Rendell Short Story competition is open for entries until the end of October. The winner will receive £1000 and will be commissioned to write 4 more stories. Full details are here.