Writing about the Seventies

October 7, 2008

Caroline asks why I set my novels in the Seventies. Good question and one I’ve asked myself occasionally, without getting a proper answer. My first novel Out Of Love was set in 1969 and the next in, as far as I remember, 1972. I briefly reintroduced the heroine Diana (or Daisy) from the first one so that readers would know what had happened to her and I’ve continued that pattern ever since, which means the novels must have a chronological progression. (The work in hand is set in 1983). Actually, I think I did this because I longed to see and hear my heroines again, however briefly, because when you’ve worked on a book for a long time you get deeply attached to your characters and you miss them painfully when the book is finished. How absurd is that? Several years ago I met a literary agent at a party. We talked about him, of course so he never knew I was a writer. (I say that with amusement not bitterness). He told me that all novelists had to be unbalanced because sane people could not stick working for such long periods in such isolation, weaving so many thousands of words without feedback. Well, perhaps he’s right. I don’t know.

So why did I start with 1969? One reason is that I didn’t want to comment on contemporary popular culture, which could have tipped over into the journalistic tone of some novels that have been enormously successful but which I don’t like much. Also as I’m rather bossy by nature I was anxious to keep myself out of it as far as possible for fear of repelling my readers, which is why I write in the first person.  Of course it is all ME, it must be, but I THINK I’ve become someone else, Marigold or Viola or Freddie,  when I’m writing.  You get a feeling of detachment when writing retrospectively which is enticing, a sort of freedom, as though you’ve got a bird’s eye view. And of course the ghastly truth is that I was young myself in the Seventies. Though I don’t feel a day older than twenty-seven the fact is that cultural trends nowadays look pretty thin and unsatisfying to me and I don’t know that I can be bothered much about Pete Doherty, Wife Swap or Coldplay. Perhaps I’m missing something. On the other hand, when I was in my late teens and early twewnties, I knew Syd Barratt of Pink Floyd fame. I thought him  amiable and good-looking but he didn’t strike me as being extraordinarily wonderful, a demi-god, so this could just be a question of taste. Or lack of it. I’m being disingenuous. Of course I don’t mean that.

I still haven’t found a satisfactory answer to Caroline’s question. Perhaps it is that a novel set in the past seems like an enclosed, discrete world in a way that one set in the present day can’t quite do, and it is finding the passport to that world, over which I have absolute control, that draws me into the madness of solitary word-spinning.

7 Responses to “Writing about the Seventies”

  1. Leone Raffaele said

    I have just re read ‘Dance with Me’ and found it just as delightful this time around.You wit is marvellous and your heroines are the most charming girls. I laughed and laughed at the fixes that Viola got herself into,and love her so much. She has become a dear friend of mine, so thank you.I have read a great many books though my life and you remain my favourite author.The seventies was a more innocent time,and the demands on people did not seem as great as those with which we now live.Forgive me if sound like a gushing fan,and I know that you must be inundated with praise, but you have given me so much pleasure.

  2. davidii said

    Like Leone, I tend to re-read your books and find them just as enjoyable and witty on subsequent visits.
    I can quite understand that, having created such interesting characters, you would want them to feature (however briefly)in subsequent novels.
    I think your fans also miss them !

    Can’t wait for the next epistle!

  3. Caroline said

    I agree with everything Leone has said, except perhaps that the demands on people did seem big to me at the time during the seventies.

    I’m longing for the next book – and hope you and the writing are going well.

  4. Lili Phillips said

    Thank you for your books, although the settings are virtually opposite to my own life, they’ve given me great pleasure, helped me through some very bad times and given me a glimpse of how others live

    kind regards

  5. Christiane Savoie said

    When will your next book be published? I can’t wait. I’ve been checking every month or so for the last few years. I’m that much enamoured with all you characters. Hope to read you soon.

  6. Judi said

    If your words were paint, you Victoria, would be Michelangelo! Thank you for the blessing of many hours of transported bliss. I just finished Running Wild and had to let you know that it has made my two hour commute to work on the metro, an experience of treasured anticipation. I am in awe of your ability to create a universe, perceive its e-v-e-r-y detail and then breathe life into each morsel of flora fauna and human emotion/expression, etc. so that it translates into a complete and satisfying reality for the reader; Zen, therapy….my capacity for words, betrays me.

    Looking forward to stepping into another one of your books very soon!

    Toronto, Canada

    • Hello Judi
      Forgive my long silence. I have been unable even to hear the word ‘blog’ in any connection without a spasm of dread, aware that I have disgracefully neglected mine. And all this time your generous and elegantly expressed message has lain here unread and unanswered. Unpardonable. But do try. I am delighted you like my books and clutch to my bosom your warming words. One so needs encouragement to continue to write because feedback from agents and editors only comes right at the end, (usually in the form of a complaint about the excessive length and will I please cut twenty thousand words forthwith) and terrible Doubts, (one thinks of poor 19th century clergymen) assail one. It is so nice of you to take the trouble to write and I DO appreciate it. I am trying again to take up my blog though with slender hopes of maintaining it.
      Toronto, well, I think at once of the clever, funny and original Robertson Davies. By all accounts it is a city of intellectual ferment. How lovely for you. I live in Northamptonshire where reading comes a very poor fifth to hunting, shooting, fishing and bridge. But I like its countryside, old-fashioned, gently hilly, sparsely populated, nonetheless. Now it is under eight inches of snow which is is nothing to you Canadians but we are childishly pleased. I send very best wishes from this rural enclave, Victoria

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