Many think of period literature as nineteenth-century or earlier, but writing something set within living memory is even more fraught with danger. If I get it wrong, there will be no shortage of people eager to point it out. Below, in no particular order, are some of the things I have to consider in writing a book set in the 1960s and 1970s (with excursions into the 1950s).
Gadgets. It was harder for people to do things back then without the technology we have today. Watch some old television shows and notice plot points that would never work now that everyone has a smartphone.
Someone gets hopelessly lost (usually in the desert because the show was shot near Los Angeles), and they either die or there is a frantic search to find them before it’s too late.
GPS, baby. Not only can you use it to find your way home, you can track people with it too. I had to remember this for Rose’s Hostage and had the bank robber ditch Libby’s phone so the cops couldn’t track her.
A character has to find a pay phone to call someone and warn them of danger. They can’t find one, so all hell breaks loose.
Everyone has a cell, and this would only work if they were in the damn woods or locked in a stone basement with no signal.
The world was introduced to a lot of new technologies in the mid to late twentieth century. What they used at the time was considered current to them. Their reactions to a new gadget, one we might laugh at, would be pretty much the same as ours.
Slang. British and American slang at the time is devilishly hard to replicate. Though the most obvious catchphrases are easy to suss out, I keep running into things that I know aren’t right but I haven’t figured out yet.
Since the only thing I can remember from the 1960s is the moon landing and the 1970s were all kid stuff for me, I shall have to pick the brains of older relatives and friends who weren’t so square (see, there’s one) back in the day. In a first draft, I get round this by typing NNNNN in place of something or CHECK so I can go back and find it again.
Details of daily life. I didn’t grow up in Britain, so checking this part will require a lot of googling and perhaps some interviewing. I did get some post-war reminiscences from some of the very nice English people who were staying at my B&B in Cardiff, and yes, those are going in the book.
Even though I was a kid, I do remember quite a bit from the 1970s in America. I grew up in a middle-class home, and our experience was pretty typical. I remember certain food products, full-service gas stations, the energy crisis, etc.
Clothing. I already did some research for this in London when I visited the Fabric and Textile Museum on Bermondsey Road. I remember people wore a lot of knitwear in the 1970s. I’ve still had to do some googling. It slipped my mind how butt-ugly some of the clothes were back then.
Décor. Dear sweet Jesus on a hotdog bun.
Politics and world events. While most of Secret Book isn’t concerned with these things, it lends more authenticity to have people mention them. The Vietnam War was a hot-button topic, for example. And American Character in particular would remember the Kennedy assassination in 1963; my real-life friends who are old enough to recall it still talk about it on November 22.
You might wonder why I chose the 1970s as the present-day setting for the book, but all I can tell you right now is that I have two main reasons:
- I’m trying to avoid the internet.
- The decade was very avant-garde, and it was all about being yourself and what you are, the Me Decade, etc. This will make sense when I can talk more about it.
People still wrote letters in the 1960s and 1970s, and you could smoke on airplanes. So, writing in a different period takes a lot of thinking and reconsidering. It’s like time travel, only without the TARDIS.
I have 45,059 words written on Secret Book. It will definitely hit the 50K mark before NaNoWriMo ends, but I am nowhere near finished. That’s okay; the goal was to get my ass in gear on this first draft, and it’s working, for the most part.
I decided to go whole hog and put Brit Character’s POV scenes in UK English, spellings and all, so I changed the Word language settings for those bits. It’s fun to deliberately type in US English and watch the program (programme!) change it. So far I’ve got very few errors, though I keep forgetting the u in flavour, colour, parlour, honour, and the like. Also, the word woollies is in the UK English spellchecker and that amused me to no end. (Yes, the book does have that word in it.)
I still have a lot to do on American Character (okay, most of her stuff, actually). So I’ll be writing on this for a while. Then I have more research to do, so I can authenticate everything and fill it out a little more. My word count will be huge, but that’s what editing is for.
So, back to work.