So I have an idea for a new book and it takes place partly in the early 1980s and it suddenly strikes me that, though I lived through this decade as a young teen, for my own children this era is as much ‘history’ as the Edwardian age is…and then I started to worry, am I really contemplating writing a ‘historical novel’ set in the 1980s?!
I was at a writer’s conference a few years ago and on a ‘historical mystery’ panel I remember an editor saying that ‘the 1980’s are not history’ – at the time, I dismissed the idea out of hand because it seemed such a no-brainer. I mean, the 1980’s – that’s hardly ‘historical’ – but then I started thinking about what happened during this time and my ideas fermented…until, I started to write and then I wondered, so what is the recent past like the 1980’s. Is it history or not?
For the most part, classification hardly matters, but when contemplating writing a novel set in the early/mid 1980s, I have to confess I started to wonder…I mean, how does one deal with the recent past in novels? How to you write about an era that hasn’t quite passed into ‘history’ and which, with all its quirks, is very much open to scrutiny.
Just watching an episode of the show The Americans makes me appreciate just how ‘foreign’ some of the 1980s can seem…but it also makes me worry about dealing with the ‘recent past’. I have to wonder, what is the best approach to writing about an era that seems ‘so near and yet so far’? One thing is for sure, you have to be absolutely sure about all your references as too many people are ready to catch your errors. But what about the other pitfalls? Are the 1980s ready to be used as a backdrop for a novel, or is the era caught between the past and present and best avoided?
So what do you think?
Is a novel set in the 1980s ‘historical’?