How Fictional is Fiction?

As usual in my life – and one of the reasons why I never pass ‘average’ at anything I try – I have many irons in the fire as it were. Quite apart from trying to finish three science fiction short stories, and building up plots for two fantasy novels, my brain has spewed forth the embryo of a science fiction novel. It’s set in the near future, a future that you and I could easily be around to see. I’ve also decided to set, at least some of it, in the West Midlands, where I grew up.

As usual, whenever I get ideas like this, I bounce them off my good friend Jay Stringer. Firstly, because he replies, secondly because he has considerably more experience in this than I do, and thirdly because i trust his judgement. A couple of the queries I had were to do with how real to make the world.

One of my aims for this new project is to illustrate the folly of apathy, and that by standing by and watching things happen, they inevitably never change. In order to do that, I wanted to set the book in the future, in an alternative Britain. However, this wouldn’t be the wildly bizarre future world of Phillip K. Dick, Orwell or Huxley, this would be one you knew, and knew well. One that could easily happen, in your lifetime. The best way to make someone feel at home, at least for me as a reader, is to use concepts, organisations, locations, brands etc., that are real. However, once I started down this road, I realised that the story was becoming less of a believable future and more of pissy rant about the state of UK politics. What Jay said was that he tended to use real life concepts as long as they were on the periphery, and that if one of these concepts needed to be used as a major plot detail, that he would tend to make one up. He cited his second novel Runaway Town as an example, where he had created a fictional analogue of an infamous British political party.

I had a think about this and how it would relate to the events I had propheseyed and concluded that I preferred the version of this story where a ficitional party did exist, and thus it was changed.

The second thing was exactly when to set this story. Jay said to just write it, it wasn’t like anyone mentioned what year it was in day-to-day conversation. This struck me as particularly obvious, and slapped myself for not thinking about it properly. I have a vague idea of when it is, but I don’t think I want it to be that prescriptive. I’ve also tried as much as possible to leave character descriptions out, unless they are absolutely required. I don’t think it matters in a reasonably contemporary novel what people look like, you can make that up yourself, unless it’s part of the plot. This obviously doesn’t apply to every genre, hardcore sci-fi or fantasy, one needs a little help at least.

Oh, and speaking of irons in fires and Jay’s second novel, I wrote and recorded a song to accompany the book. If you buy it, I can eat:

Amazon MP3


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