Yesterday I was pondering on the question of whether a writer whose work is set in the present should or shouldn’t mention the current situation. It was triggered by a question to readers on social media which was along these lines;If you were reading a book set in this present day but covid didn’t exist in the story, would it irritate you, or would you not even notice? I mentioned that I have been – not exactly in denial, but been trying to avoid mentioning it, writing about it, reflecting it, even obliquely. This is why so many of my posts over the last year have been about things in the past, or general things like, food, or creative pieces which are obviously set in the past where there is no pandemic, no lockdown. The book I am writing now is the eighth in my Radwinter series and follows on from the previous one set in 2018, so the events are occurring in 2019. My conundrum is, in my next novel, which is already bubbling away, to what extent should I write about the torrid and tragic events. My instinct is to avoid them, pretend they haven’t happened, but that’s wrong, disingenuous and tricky though it will be, if I’m writing a story set post 2020, I cannot ignore the events from March 2020 onwards.
It was interesting reading the responses to the question and it was through reading them that I came to my decision about my future writing. There were nearly ninety responses and as you might imagine they covered a complete range of opinions. There were a few other writers and authors who were facing or had faced a similar dilemma, and then there were readers of every shade of opinion. A very few said they wouldn’t even notice if the pandemic wasn’t mentioned in fictional events set in 2020. Quite a few more said the same and added that even if they noticed, it wouldn’t bother them in the slightest, and then over a third said they definitely did not want to read about it, even as a passing mention, and would avoid books – not buy, borrow or read them if it was mentioned.
A number of responses suggested that a writer could avoid making it clear exactly when the book was set, or contrive it so that the real events were vaguely in the background but didn’t impact on the plot. Of the writers who responded, a lot of them felt like this, that they would write round the events of last year and on into this year, but all were troubled to some extent by the dilemma they were faced with. Quite a few people wondered how it was possible to write something set in the present and not mention what was happening – and one person wrote this, and I hope they don’;t mind be quoting them, because in the end, I agreed with them completely:
It would stop me from reading the book definitely as I really like my facts to be accurate in a fiction book. I can’t imagine a novel set between 1939 and 1945 with no mention of the war for example…