Wednesday 31 March 2021

The Unnerving Power of the Written Word

It’s a rarely-mentioned problem of writing contemporary fiction set in real places, that it can go out of date so quickly, but it can, and I have often bemoaned the fact that useful landmarks disappear overnight. I used to say that I took commissions from organised crime to mention police stations in my novels, because no sooner did the book hit the shelves, than the bulldozers moved in on the buildings.

It was certainly true of my first three novels.

You’ll be lucky to find a trace left of any official building mentioned in that trilogy. Then things settled down for a few books, but it has happened again on a rather grand scale for the latest, Boxed In.

I was asked a question about shipping containers and my publisher asked me to record an answer by way of a short podcast, which I did. And as soon as it was finished, container ships – which had been largely invisible to news outlets for years – were suddenly all over the mainstream media when a ship ran aground and blocked the Suez Canal.

Would I re-record my answer and include mention of the stricken ship, given that it looked set to cause chaos for weeks to come? Yes, of course I would, and here it is:

But what happened the very moment the podcast was live? Naturally, the ship was re-floated and the blockage cleared. My power to move mountains with words is back!

Why would anyone ask me about shipping containers in the first place? That’s a good question and so was the one about containers. It came after a recording I’d done about the weather in novels: