Into the time slip

There is always this gamble when writing fiction in a contemporary setting. Any political, popular culture, or specifically topical references you make in the writing are going to ‘date’ it very easily. Technology, for example, or the economy – who can predict the next revolution or crash? Things move so fast. Or they did.

I was starting to rework and old draft of something with a contemporary setting when this happened. The pandemic. The book already referenced Brexit, in passing. If you have lived in the UK in the past three or four years and have something contemporary set there, it’s been hard not to. But this?

What to do now?

I could shift the action forward by, say, a year—have in mind a setting that’s summer 2021 rather than 2020, perhaps. But how do we know how long the effects of this are going to last – indeed, even what those impacts are going to be on our lives? Are the characters permitted to travel? Would they have job security? And then, even in our most optimistic scenarios, there will be the aftermath, the rebuilding.

Another option is the ‘parallel universe’ one. Just as some of the soap operas, at least here in UK, found themselves caught out (understandably) by the pandemic, the characters blithely continuing their lives out and about in the spring-time streets, pubs, shops, workplaces, so one could create a setting where the virus never struck. But that doesn’t work, does it. One of the most significant global events of recent times never occurred. Easy as that. Tra-lal-la!

Go backwards to go forwards?

Or move the time setting back a year? Hmn. No. Because one cannot un-know. And what you know about the future of your characters, at least anything of significance, will affect their present. Even without a truckload of ungainly foreshadowing.

No doubt there will be, before long, novels that depict these current events (Love in the Time of Covid?). Perhaps a state-of-the-nation work. Just as, for example, Ali Smith penned a series of Brexit / Post-Brexit novels (her Seasonal Quartet), beginning with 2017’s well-reviewed Autumn and due to end this year with Summer. Yet others will take the trauma as a catalyst or turning point for their characters. Some may be taking notes as we speak, in order to capture the mood, the now. Others still may find be finding writing therapeutic.

I am aware, of course, that all this is a tiny symptom of a wider condition. A life where we no longer have future certainties into which we can plant the next psychological foot, and the one after that. All of which gives us a drifting uncertainty. We may say that such ‘certainty’ is, was always, a mental construct. Was always a set of dreams, ifs, and what-ifs.

We had our plans though, could picture ourselves there – there at that graduation, wedding, birthday celebration, on that trip, planning that promotion, house move. Now when we look ahead, the scenarios of possibility multiply in our minds until the entire projection fragments and floats away.

Grief and emotional loss do that: they make the future hard, often impossible, to imagine. This will, sadly, come to most of us at one point, as individuals. But en masse, like this, internationally, the dislocation? It highlights how fortunate we have been here, a relatively wealthy nation, after seventy-five years of territorial peace. I cannot remember anything like it.

As for writing, I may have to go backwards to go forwards. I will beat a retreat, to something set in the past. Interestingly, I remember mentioning the cholera epidemics of the nineteenth century in a story. Somewhat in passing. And it occurs to me this is the greatest fear: that this will become a backdrop, not remarkable enough to be in the foreground. Enmeshed in the pattern of daily life.



The title here references, of course, The Time Warp by Richard O’Brien from the Rocky Horror Show: “…You’re into the time slip (And nothing can ever be the same).”
Main photo Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash
and Jon Tyson on Unsplash


12 thoughts on “Into the time slip

  1. Michael Graeme May 11, 2020 — 6:39 am

    I can relate to this. My current work in progress was hijacked by Covid about half way through.
    My last but one got hijacked by BREXIT. No easy way round either. I found with both those stories, basically being defined by developing relationships, it was possible to hang back from contemporary events by a few weeks and then write them in as background if I needed to. Not easy though, and getting harder for all writers I imagine as times become more volatile. It’s what happens when you make stuff up and reality keeps interrupting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great way of putting it. I do find myself in a solipsistic moan about how the pandemic interrupted my holiday plans – or, as here, threw my plot and dialogue of course, with a total lack of perspective. Still, as a quandary, this one could beat Brexit.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You’ve prompted an interesting question, post corona virus emergency legislation are both ‘the Kaf’ and ‘Queen Vic’ still open for business? But you are right political upheaval can date art whether fiction or film, I’d agree why not beat the retreat to a setting in the past. Lovely posting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I only listen to the Archers – think they have taken it off air to hastily record some non-corona free episodes. But it is impossible to ‘write ahead’ I imagine. Wonder what the strategies for that are going to be moving forward.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s true… we have to go back – 2019 or go forward (preferably 2-3 years, but we don’t know how everything will work out, so it’s difficult to imagine/describe correctly).

    I actually thought … to set a crime novel in 2020 (in Sweden we don’t have any lockdown …but of coz there’re a lot of recommendations). Anyway, I think it’s possible. Without traveling tho. Maybe by car only?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe in the deep countryside? Or just be one of the first to use Covid19 as a backdrop? It’s a toughie – historical and sci-fi look more tempting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t know…maybe. I think 🤔 it would be possible to set crime story (or any) in sweden🤪 bcz our country wasn’t on lockdown.


  4. Someone else mentioned this–it’s a biggy. You might role the dice, decide how this will work out (maybe like the Spanish Flu) and then look prescient. And rewrite it if you’re wrong! It makes me happy mine is well in the past!


    1. Or go with one of those novels that have alternative endings… I did look for opinion pieces on this expecting there to be lots, but didn’t find them. I think I was hoping they would have some ideas!


  5. Include current developments or not. As you feel like it. Whatever the little voice inside your head tells you to write.
    I just wrote a short story about the aftermath of Corona in Mexico. But that was a commission for the third anniversary of one of our sons-in-law. Friends and family were asked to write s short text in Andrés’ style or using his themes. (He was a good writer). Then an old friend of his collated and edited the texts into one story, and presented the book to ur daughter. A nice initiative. Without it, I would probably not have written the piece. 😎
    So, follow your inner voice.


  6. What precarious situation we are in – probably going forward will help – loved the writing


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close