I recently read A Green and Pleasant Land by Judith Cutler. It’s a contemporary cold case crime novel and very engaging. Years ago an abandoned car was found containing a dead, disabled baby. The child’s mother and sibling were missing, feared dead and have never been found. What happened to them?
One of the things I particularly liked about the story was the many topical references to current events and today’s technology – these made the story much more immediate and real for me. One of Judith’s characters is a police and crime commissioner, there are references to the Huhne & Pryce speeding ticket fiasco, the sad case of Madeleine McCann and the terrible flooding that has hit areas of the country over the last few years. The two retired police officers investigating the cold case use iPads and have a coffee machine which uses pods.
Then I thought that anybody picking up this book in five or ten years time might find the technological references rather quaint and may not remember or have ever been aware of the current events mentioned. Would this spoil their enjoyment of the novel? Would they deem it old-fashioned? I asked Judith for her comments.
” I usually make my novels as topical as I can, because they tend to be library-only editions and therefore as evanescent as a may-fly.
So when rain and floods messed up my research, I decided to turn that to a strength, so it messed things up for my detectives too. A good police commissioner is as rare as a hen’s wisdom tooth, so it was obvious I could use one as a baddie. McCanns? Can you write about a missing child without mentioning them? So yes, a snapshot of 2014. Some might call this meticulous research, others opportunism.”
So the nature of the way Judith’s books are published means she doesn’t worry about how they may appear some years down the line. And probably most writers are more concerned about the immediate impact of a book on its publication day rather than in the future when sales have dwindled and readers attention has drifted elsewhere.
Judith’s going historical for her next book and finding it much more difficult to get the facts right.
” I’m currently setting a book in 1813 and some historical facts are proving a damned nuisance. How can my hero waltz in April 1813 when the waltz didn’t appear till about 5 months later? There’s no national police force to summon to his rescue and I’d give a lot for some penicillin too. I’m not a proper historian but I’m going to get 1813 right. If a novelist boobs over details, can you trust him or her with the big picture?”
In a few decades time people may read ‘A Green and Pleasant Land‘ as a historical novel and enjoy learning the small details of how we lived in 2014. So maybe it’s a good thing to stuff in all those contemporary references – what do you think?