Three Benefits Of Setting Your Story In The 1980s And/Or 1990s

Well, since I’m reading a horror/comedy novel set in the early 1990s (“Meddling Kids” by Edgar Cantero) and because I was also experimenting with a writing project set in the 1980s, I thought that I’d talk about a few of the benefits of setting your story in the 1980s-90s.

1) Phones and the internet: This is a fairly obvious one, but it is worth mentioning nonetheless. Although basic mobile phones were starting to become more common during the mid-late 1990s, one of the defining features of these two decades is the fact that the world didn’t revolve around mobile phones, social media etc… This has all sorts of benefits when it comes to storytelling.

The fact that your characters can’t just phone anyone anywhere means that suspenseful scenes become more suspenseful. After all, if your characters are in danger, then they either have to find a phone (of the landline or payphone variety) or come up with some kind of plan. Likewise, it also makes mysteries more mysterious too, since your characters can’t just whip out a smartphone and look online for information. In other words, they actually have to do proper old-fashioned research and investigation.

Plus, although the web was a thing during the 1990s, it was a lot less common and/or developed (it was also a lot slower too, and made this noise when you connected to it). As such, there wasn’t really the kind of mainstream online/social media culture that there is these days.

I could go on for quite a while, but the lack of things like social media, smartphones etc… means that stories set in the 1980s/90s can often have a lot more suspense, personality, nuance etc… than stories set in the modern world.

2) It isn’t that difficult to write: Although you’ll probably have the annoying experience of thinking of an awesome 80s/90s pop culture reference to add to your historical story, only to look online and realise that it refers to something that existed a year or two after when the story takes place, it is easier to write historical stories set in these decades than in other decades.

There are several reasons for this. Firstly, even if you don’t actually have any memories of the year that your story is set in, there’s a very good chance that you’ve encountered a lot of things from this time period without even realising it. After all, if you grew up in the 1990s or the 2000s, then films/books/TV shows/music etc… from the 1980s/90s were still fairly recent back then. So, you probably already know more about these decades than you think.

Secondly, these decades are recent enough to still be vaguely similar to our current world. So, if you write a fairly “timeless” story with a few subtle nostalgic details and a little bit of historical awareness (eg: about things like mobile phones, historical events etc..), then it will probably seem reasonably convincing. After all, most novels that are actually from the 1980s and 1990s usually keep their “80s/90s” elements relatively understated, since these things were just ordinary life back then.

Thirdly, there’s no shortage of research material out there. Nostalgia about these decades is fairly popular at the moment, so there’s loads of information about them on the internet. Likewise, things like films from these decades can usually be found fairly easily on DVD too.

3) Comments: Simply put, one of the best ways to comment about the benefits and flaws of the modern world is to tell a story set in the past. Since your readers will be reading it in the present day (and know that you were writing it in the present day), then they are going to compare the historical “world” of your story to the world around them.

And, you can use this to comment about the modern world. For example, showing some of the problems of the 1980s/90s that are less of an issue these days can be a way of making the reader feel better about the modern world. On the other hand, showing some of the awesome parts of the 1980s/90s that we’re in danger of losing these days can be a way of criticising the modern world. Likewise, showing things that haven’t changed at all can also be a way of commenting about the present day too.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂


Three Thoughts About Writing Fiction Set In The Mid-2000s

Well, I ended up thinking about the subject of mid-2000s style fiction after I began re-reading a horror novel from 2005 called “Final Destination: Dead Reckoning” by Natasha Rhodes (although, due to a heatwave at the time of writing, it might take me longer to read/review this novel than usual). It could be because of the fact that I first read this novel in 2005/6, but it seemed so wonderfully mid-2000s in a lot of ways.

This then made me think of a horror novel from 2006 that I re-read a while ago called “Dying Words” by Shaun Hutson, which seems to be the perfect distillation of mid-2000s Britain. And, since the mid-2000s is just slightly too recent to really be a part of popular nostalgia at the moment, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about how to write stories set in the mid-2000s. And for the purposes of this article, I’ll define the mid-2000s as 2004-6 or so.

1) Culture and context: Culturally, the mid-2000s was a different age. Despite all of the lingering post-9/11 fear and angst, culture was a bit more optimistic and interesting than the present day. In part, this was probably because the 2008 financial crash hadn’t happened yet. So, here are a few of the cultural differences between the mid-2000s and the present day.

As for films, horror movies were a lot more popular 🙂 At the time, the psychological horror/jump scare trend of the early-mid 2000s was still going strong (with, for example, a Hollywood remake of “The Grudge” in 2004) but, with the release of the first “Saw” film in 2004, the early beginnings of the grittier and more brutal horror movie trends of the mid-late 2000s were also emerging too. Superhero movies also existed at the time, but were thankfully more of an occasional infrequent novelty rather than a major genre 🙂

Pop and rock music (especially indie rock) were popular genres of music too. Heavy metal music from the time usually tended to be a bit more shoutier and/or angst-filled than it was in previous decades though. There were also some lingering remnants of the awesome pop-punk trend of the mid-1990s/early-mid 2000s in the charts too 🙂 The Emo subculture was also a popular thing too. In terms of fashions, boho chic was one of the most popular trends.

Videogames were a popular thing, but were also still something of a niche hobby too. First-person shooter games were still primarily single-player games (and were all the better for it!) and genres like the 3D platformer genre and the survival horror genre were still reasonably popular too 🙂 Whilst online multiplayer obviously existed back then, there tended to be more of a focus on good, honest local multiplayer for console games. However, the modern renaissance in indie games hadn’t happened yet, so most games were popular “AAA” games made by larger studios.

Politically, this was the age of George W. Bush and Tony Blair. Both were mercilessly satirised at the time and for good reason. Still, even though the mid-2000s was a relative utopia compared to the present day, we didn’t know any worse back then. As such, pessimism, angst and gloom about politics were a major thing back then. Whether it was angst about the erosion of civil liberties, worries about terrorism, worries about Blair acting in an authoritarian fashion, worries about the Iraq/Afghanistan wars etc… It was a fairly angst-filled time.

But it was, in Britain at least, a much more hedonistic age too 🙂 For example, this was an age when there were still tabloid moral panics about “binge drinking” (because people still actually went out drinking/clubbing at the weekend 🙂 ).

2) The technology: The thing to remember about the mid-2000s is that, in technological terms, it was mostly a more sensible version of the present day. In other words, whilst things like mobile phones, some types of social media etc.. still existed, they were a little bit more sensible.

In other words, smartphones didn’t really exist. Mobile phones existed (and were very popular), but they were actual phones with numerical keypads. They were primarily used for phone calls and simple text messages. Some phones had low-resolution cameras, limited internet connectivity and colour screens, but that was about it (and adding anything more usually tended to result in commercial failure, see the Nokia N-Gage for an example). They had much longer battery life than modern phones and they couldn’t really access social media in the way they do today 🙂

Social media, of course, being something you accessed via a desktop computer (running Windows 98 or XP 🙂 ). Even then, it was at least slightly different to what it is today. Back then, social media tended to focus slightly more on things like public forums (where people would discuss a topic, instead of themselves), instant messenger programs and – of course- traditional blogs, where people could write at length in an articulate fashion 🙂

Yet, unfortunately, the beginnings of modern-style social media were also starting to emerge too. Myspace was, of course, around at the time. An obscure video-sharing site called Youtube appeared in 2005. In 2006, Twitter began (as a service that allowed you to send SMS text messages to the internet with your phone) and Facebook opened itself to the public too. Yet, in 2004-6, social media was still something of an obscure hobby that had not grown to the ridiculous level of prominence that it has today.

As for portable date storage, re-writable CDs were a popular way of backing up large amounts of data. Whilst USB memory sticks existed during the mid-2000s, they were much smaller (eg: tens or hundreds of megabytes) and people still used floppy disks occasionally. Computers still often had floppy drives installed as standard too 🙂

Likewise, whilst some mobile phones had low-resolution cameras, most people used good, honest stand-alone digital cameras to take photos. However, cheap disposable film-based cameras were still reasonably popular for things like holidays etc…

Plus, the mid-2000s was one of the last time periods where physical media was king 🙂 In other words, when you bought a film, you bought it on DVD (or maybe VHS, if you could find it). Traditional paperback and hardback books were the only way to read fiction 🙂 Music was still primarily sold on CDs too 🙂

Likewise, although things like Steam did exist back then, if you bought a computer or video game, you almost certainly bought a physical disc from a physical shop (as such, things like DLC, loot boxes etc.. weren’t common and most games were actually released in a finished state too 🙂 )

3) The stories aren’t that different: You’ll have probably noticed that I’ve spent most of this article talking about background and contextual stuff, rather than about writing. There’s a good reason for this. The mid-2000s weren’t that long ago.

In other words, stories that would work in the modern day can often also work reasonably well when set during the mid-2000s. Most of what makes a story set during this time period different from a more modern story are the background details and the atmosphere (eg: angst-filled/pessimistic, yet also more innocent and optimistic) more than anything else.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Review: “Nefertiti” By Michelle Moran (Novel)

A few days before writing this review, I happened to see two documentaries about ancient Egypt. And, since I was in a bit of an “ancient Egypt” kind of mood afterwards, I remembered that I had a second-hand copy of Michelle Moran’s 2007 novel “Nefertiti” that a relative had given me several years ago.

So, let’s take a look at “Nefertiti”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2008 Quercus (UK) paperback edition of “Nefertiti” that I read.

“Nefertiti” is a historical novel about the reign of Nefertiti, queen and Pharaoh of Egypt. The story begins with a brief third-person description of how one of the elder pharaoh’s sons, Tuthmosis, dies in suspicious circumstances. Then, the novel is narrated by Nefertiti’s younger sister Mutnodjemet, beginning in Thebes when the sisters are teenagers and their influential father, Vizier Ay, manages to arrange a marriage between Nefertiti and the elder pharaoh’s only surviving son Amunhotep.

When Amunhotep is granted control of lower Egypt, he begins to order sweeping religious changes in addition to ordering the construction of a new city in the desert. Of course, Vizier Ay hopes that Nefertiti can influence the pharaoh to keep Egypt’s ancient religious traditions. However, the lure of power is strong and Nefertiti is eager to grab it…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a brilliantly epic, dramatic and atmospheric historical saga – although it is rather slow to start.

In essence, if you can get through the first hundred pages or so, then you’ll be rewarded with a wonderfully gripping story that reminded me of both HBO’s excellent “Rome” TV series (in terms of atmosphere, grandeur and style) and “Game Of Thrones” (in terms of ruthless political intrigue, drama, tyrannical rulers etc..). This novel is just as good, if not better, than these TV shows – but only once you’ve got past about the first hundred pages or so. So, stick with this book.

In terms of the historical elements of this novel – I am very glad that I watched a couple of documentaries before I read it. Whilst the story can of course be enjoyed as a simple drama/political thriller/romance/ historical saga without any prior knowledge, having a little bit of general background knowledge will help you to spot some of the novel’s moments of dramatic irony and/or historical accuracy (eg: there’s a throwaway line about Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus late in the book that is accurate to the archaeological findings in one of the documentaries I saw).

But, even if you know enough about the history to know how the story’s main events will turn out, most of the novel is still intriguingly gripping because of all of the various sub-plots and moments of drama. Because the novel is written from the perspective of Nefertiti’s sister, she is able to be involved in events, plots and romances that aren’t part of the well-known historical narrative. Likewise, some of the novel’s political schemes, plots and power plays are also rather unpredictable too. As such, the story can still be nail-bitingly suspenseful even if you know some of the history.

Plus, looking on Wikipedia, there does seem to be some deliberate artistic licence (eg: with regard to Horemheb and Mutnodjemet, with regard to how Nefertiti dies etc…). Although this isn’t historically accurate, it helps to add some unpredictability and drama to the story. However, when doing a little bit of background reading whilst writing this review, I suddenly noticed that two of the novel’s background characters (Ay and Horemheb) later became pharaohs, which is kind of cool.

In addition to this, the story is a grimly compelling drama about the nature of evil and the corrupting influence of power. Since, through Mutnodjemet’s eyes, we get to watch how Nefertiti goes from being a loving sister into a cold-hearted, selfish and imperious ruler.

In addition to this, the Pharaoh Amunhotep/Akhenaten is also a brilliantly chilling character too – he’s a religious fanatic, who is drunk with power and scarily incompetent too (eg: he orders the army to build him a new city, whilst some of Egypt’s outer territories are being invaded by Hittites etc..). So, this novel is a fascinatingly chilling glimpse into the nature of evil and tyranny too.

Yet, the novel’s emotional tone is surprisingly balanced. Unlike, say, “Game of Thrones”, this isn’t an unrelentingly bleak story. Yes, there are certainly grim, shocking, poignant, chilling, bleak and suspenseful moments but these are also balanced out with more joyous, heartwarming and peaceful moments. This novel is a wonderfully powerful emotional rollercoaster. So, if you want something that is a little bit like “Game Of Thrones”, but with a little bit less of a bleak tone to it, then you’ll enjoy this novel 🙂

The religious politics of ancient Egypt are also a really interesting element of this novel too. Basically, the novel covers the relatively brief period of history where Amunhotep/Akhenaten changed the state religion from the religion of Amun (eg: the traditional deities like Horus, Osiris, Anubis, Amun-Ra etc...) to the worship of a single sun god called Aten.

In addition to showing some of the reasons why the Pharaoh did this – eg: a mixture of religious fanaticism and a way to take power away from the influential priests of Amun – Moran also adds a bit of extra drama and suspense to the story by showing many of the characters still secretly worshipping the old gods in a similar way to how Americans drank in speakeasies etc… during prohibition.

The characters in this book are absolutely brilliant and the decision to narrate the story from the perspective of Nefertiti’s younger sister – who just wants to tend a garden and start a family, rather than get involved in politics – is a surprisingly good one. Not only is she a really likeable character, but her humanity is also brilliantly contrasted with many of the more sociopathic and power-hungry characters that she encounters. Seriously, I really loved the characters and characterisation in this novel 🙂

In terms of the writing and first-person narration, it’s fairly good too. The novel is written in a fairly readable style which is descriptive enough to evoke the grandeur and traditions of ancient Egypt whilst still being modern and matter-of-fact enough to be able to be read at a reasonable pace. The novel also uses a few Egyptian words to add flavour to the story, but the meaning is always obvious from the context – so, it never gets confusing.

In terms of the length and pacing, it’s reasonably ok. Although, as I mentioned, the novel is a bit slow to start, the final three-quarters of the book move at a reasonably decent pace. Whilst this isn’t exactly an ultra-fast paced thriller, the narration moves at a good pace and there are enough moments of drama to keep you gripped throughout most of the book. And, at about 420 pages or so, this novel is a little bit on the long side – but still just about compact enough not to feel bloated.

All in all, this is an absolutely brilliant historical novel. Yes, the first hundred pages or so are a bit of a slog but, once you get past those, you’ll be rewarded with a wonderfully gripping tale of power, intrigue, family and politics. I absolutely loved the atmosphere and characters in this novel too. As I mentioned earlier, if you like TV shows like “Rome” and “Game Of Thrones”, then you’ll probably enjoy this book 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Four Random Tips For Writing Stories Set In 1990s America

One of the interesting things I noticed when I was writing daily short stories last spring was the fact that I started writing a few stories set in 1990s America, like this horror story, this comedy story and the sequel to it.

This was something that I’d wanted to do back in February 2017, but just didn’t know how to – so, back then, I took the easy option and wrote five stories set in late 1990s Britain instead (even though I’d previously made a comic set in 1990s America, I just couldn’t work out how to write stories about it back then).

So, since I seemed to have gained a bit more wisdom and/or confidence about writing stories set in a decade I can only vaguely remember and a country I’ve never been to, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about how to write stories set in 1990s America. Needless to say, these tips shouldn’t be considered expert advice or anything, but they might be a useful starting point if you’ve never tried to write anything in this genre before.

1) Do your research (and think like a critic): One of the things that helped me to write stories set in 1990s America last spring was the fact that, several months earlier, I went through a phase of watching Hollywood movies from the 1990s and watching/rewatching various TV shows from 1990s America. A while later, I also went through a phase of listening to more punk music from 1990s America than usual too. But, unlike previous times where I’ve done this, I also did something a bit different.

Unlike just watching and listening for entertainment like I might have done a few years ago, I needed to find some way of justifying all of the time I’d sunk into them. So, I started looking at them in a more critical way – so that I could write reviews and/or analysis articles for this site. What this meant is that I had to look for things that they all had in common with each other, I needed to find ways to describe what set them apart from more modern stuff etc…

And, all of this meant that I got a bit of an education about what makes 1990s America so distinctive. So, my advice would be to think like a critic whilst researching 1990s America. Look for what different things from the decade have in common (eg: visually, tonally, thematically etc..) and it will give you a lot of pointers for writing stories in this genre.

2) Optimism and cynicism: I’ve mentioned this many times before, but one of the things that sets the 1990s – especially in America- apart from other decades is the feeling of optimism. This is because it was the decade after the end of the Cold War and before 9/11. It was a decade where there seemed to be no major threats and that things could only get better.

If you don’t believe me, watch some Hollywood action/thriller movies from the time – the storylines are often hilariously silly or innocently generic, because the writers couldn’t just look to the headlines for inspiration. They actually had to use their imaginations to come up with fictional threats and horrors because things were relatively peaceful at the time. So, 1990s America had a bit more of an innocent and optimistic attitude. If you need further confirmation of this, watch the first season of “The West Wing” and ask yourself if anyone in America would make an uplifting political drama like that these days.

All of this cheerful optimism was, of course, counterpointed by the famous cynicism of the 1990s. Seriously, it’s one of the defining traits of 1990s America. Whether it is punk songs with depressing lyrics, a gloomier focus on more mundane problems (eg: crime, the environment, poverty etc..), sarcastic dialogue in movies, “gritty” comic books, “edgy” videogames or other such things, 1990s America is this wonderfully paradoxical balance between optimism and a more innocent form of cynicism.

3) Traditions: Although the world wide web was certainly around in 1990s America, it was still a “new” thing and not the ubiquitous thing it is these days. As such, there seems to be a slightly more “traditional” atmosphere to 1990s America. At least according to my research anyway.

For example, shopping centres (or “malls”) were apparently still popular meeting places and/or places to spend a few hours. Likewise, although VHS tapes (and, later, DVDs) existed in 1990s America, cinemas seemed to be a bit more popular back then. Popular culture was more heavily controlled by a few film studios and TV stations. Plus, of course, social media wasn’t really a “thing” back then, so groups of friends etc.. tended to be a little bit more varied in terms of opinions and personalities (which allows for all sorts of amusing “odd couple” style stories).

Likewise, just like twenty/thirtysomethings these days get nostalgic about the 1990s (like in this article), the older creative people who were making a lot of the popular films, TV shows etc.. in 1990s America were of course nostalgic about the 1950s-70s.

As such, things set in 1990s America will often have a slightly interesting contrast between modernity and a more rose-tinted “old” version of America. Look at the 1950s-influenced costume designs in seasons 1&2 of “Twin Peaks”, the vaguely 1970s-style newspaper office in all four seasons of “Lois & Clark” etc.. for examples of this.

4) It’s not that long ago:
Simply put, although there are differences between the 1990s and the present day, it’s still only 20-30 years difference. So, for the most part, your “1990s America” stories don’t have to be that different to more modern stories that are set in America.

Just remember that mobile phones were less popular in the 1990s, remember that the internet was less of a “thing”, remember to add a few 1990s pop culture references etc… and then just tell a slightly more “timeless” story that could theoretically happen at any point in the mid-late 20th or early 21st century.

After all, a lot of 1990s movies, a lot of 1990s novels etc.. are still very watchable and/or readable these days because they’re still relatively recent. For example, “The Matrix” was released in 1999 and it still looks relatively futuristic. Or, G.R.R Martin’s “A Game Of Thrones” was first published in 1996 and it was still easily adapted into a TV show in the early 2010s.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Random Tips For Modern 1970s-Style Storytelling

Although I’m much more interested in the 1990s than the 1970s – I happened to read a novel from the 1970s recently. Although I read a few second-hand 1970s novels when I was a teenager (during the 2000s), this was the first one I’ve read in quite a few years.

So, this made me think about what sets stories from the 1970s apart from more modern stories and, more importantly, how modern writers can tell 1970s-style stories.

1) Narration: When telling 1970s-style stories, the narration shouldn’t be as hyper-formal as something from the early 20th century – but it shouldn’t be too “modern” either. In other words, you should probably focus on including slightly more complex narration and descriptions (but in a slightly understated way).

To give you a comparison, here’s a descriptive sentence* from “Iceberg” (1975) by Clive Cussler: “He slowed his movement, spellbound by the strangeness of the dark colour beneath the vast shroud of blue-green water.” Notice how this is a single, longer sentence that is filled with slightly more complex language – yet, it is still very readable.

Now, here are two modern descriptive sentence from “Zero Hour” (2013) by Clive Cussler & Graham Brown: ‘Kurt noticed the hue of the water. Pink at the top but darker red as the light was absorbed.‘ Notice how this description is split into two shorter sentences and uses slightly more matter-of-fact language, yet it still manages to achieve the same level of description as the sentence from 1975 does.

So, when telling 1970s-style stories, your narration and pacing should be very slightly slower and more formal. Your sentence length should be a little bit longer too.

The thing to remember here is that books were a popular form of entertainment during the 1970s (since things like VCRs, the internet, videogames etc… weren’t widely available back then) in a way that they aren’t these days. As such, writers and readers had slightly different expectations in terms of formality, pacing etc… during the 1970s than they do today.

(* And, yes, the quote is from a UK edition of “Iceberg”, hence the spelling of “colour”. The original US edition probably uses US spellings. Interestingly, spelling localisation in UK editions seems to be less common these days than it was in the past.)

2) Content, censorship and moral standards:
Ok, this is a little bit of a complicated one.

Basically, the 1970s was a decade where book censorship was no longer a major issue (in Britain at least). However, when writing modern 1970s-style fiction, you need to make a distinction between traditional censorship issues (eg: profanity, horror, violence etc..) and modern moral standards (eg: about discrimination etc..) because the two things have to be handled in very different ways.

When it comes to traditional censorship issues like horror, violence, drug use, scenes of an adult nature, profanity etc… you can be as intense or as subtle as you would normally choose to be. Official censorship of these sorts of things in literature ended in Britain with the “Lady Chatterley” trial in 1960 and, of course, the US has the first amendment too.

If you don’t believe me, then read “Crash” by J. G. Ballard (1973) or “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson (1971). The toned-down 1990s film adaptations of these 1970s novels still have an “18 certificate” to this day (and the adaptation of “Crash” was even banned from some cinemas in London) – so, the 1970s certainly wasn’t a prudish or censorious decade with regard to literature.

However, “historically inaccurate” as it may be, it is a very good idea to apply modern standards to topics like discrimination, prejudice etc.. when writing new 1970s-style stories. This is because your modern 70s-style stories are still modern stories and will be judged by modern standards by a modern audience.

So, if you’re just writing a 1970s style story, it is best to leave 1970s-style attitudes out of it altogether. If you’re writing a historical story set in the 1970s, then the generally accepted rule seems to be that, whilst 1970s-style attitudes can be described/shown, they must be presented in a critical way (and, usually, shouldn’t be held by the main character). Likewise, whilst you can critically show dated attitudes, avoid using dated language (eg: insults etc…) wherever possible.

3) Technology: Yes, technology was less advanced during the 1970s. However, if you actually read stories from the 1970s, this is barely mentioned at all. After all, why would it be? I mean, most modern stories don’t include characters bemoaning the lack of futuristic holograms, cyborgs, flying cars etc….

So, when telling a 1970s-style story, just be a little bit subtle or understated about the technology. Just treat 1970s technology in the same “ordinary”, understated way that we often tend to think about modern technology.

After all, a lot of the underlying elements haven’t changed that much – I mean, a newspaper and a news site do basically the same thing. A landline phone and a smartphone both allow for phone calls. Cars fulfil the same role today as they did during the 1970s. The military, some police officers, hunters/farmers, violent criminals etc… still use guns (which haven’t really changed mechanically in decades). A vinyl record and a MP3 file both contain recorded music. A document can be typed on a typewriter or a computer. People still drink in pubs/bars etc..

Yes, you might have to make the occasional substitution, but it isn’t as difficult as you might think. For example, if a character hears an important piece of breaking news then just show them hearing it on the radio or the television (or have another character tell them the news), rather than showing them seeing it on the internet. I’m sure you get the idea.

Not only that, the technological limitations of the past can actually result in better stories. For example, detective stories where detectives have to rely on clever questioning and Sherlock Holmes-like deductive reasoning rather than just using modern forensic technology. Or thriller stories that are more suspenseful because the main character can’t just call for backup on their mobile phone etc….


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

What A CD Single Insert From 1997 Can Teach Us About Worldbuilding And Historical Fiction – A Ramble

Although this is an article about worldbuilding and/or writing historical fiction, I’m going to have to start by talking about stuff from the 1990s for the next eight paragraphs or so. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that will become relevant later.

Anyway, whilst looking for something in my CD collection, I stumbled across an old CD single of Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” from 1997 that I’d forgotten that I even had.

Musical nostalgia aside, one of the interesting things about the CD single was that it contained a cardboard insert that initially just seemed like a silly piece of ephemera. But, the more I looked at it, the more I realised that it couldn’t have come from any time after the 1990s.

The insert is a form that allows the record company to send (what would probably be considered) junk mail to anyone who fills it in. Not only that, there’s a box at the bottom of the form that contains a hilariously transparent exhortation to send in the form even if you’ve already signed up to their list, just so that they can collect record sales data.

For a second, I wondered “who the hell would actually sign up for this?

Then I remembered that the internet was a lot less widely-used during the 1990s. So, getting advertising brochures in the post was actually a valid way of keeping up to date with things like concerts, release dates etc…. if you didn’t want to buy music magazines every month.

I also realised that the fact that the internet was less common back then meant that there was much less awareness about things like spam, advertising tactics, giving out your details etc… So, companies could do this sort of thing and actually expect large numbers of people to respond.

Then I remembered that music was only sold on physical media during the 1990s, so there was less musical variety easily available to the public. This is noticeable by the fact that, although the limited list of genres on the form thankfully includes heavy metal, it doesn’t include genres like punk or gothic rock. Likewise, CD singles were popular enough back then for companies to actually add advertising to them too.

I could go on, but it’s amazing how much you can deduce about 1997 from a simple piece of ephemera.

But, why did I spend the last few paragraphs dissecting a piece of advertising? What does any of this have to do with worldbuilding and historical fiction?

Well, a lot actually. The CD single insert I’ve been talking about is a perfect example of how the general conditions of a time or place can shape even the smallest things. It is the sort of thing that could only have existed during the 1990s (or earlier). It only exists because the internet was a lot less common back then.

If you’re creating a fictional world, then it is small details like this that really make your “world” feel authentic. These are small details that can easily be ignored but which allow attentive members of the audience to deduce more about your fictional world by looking at them closely.

So, think about how your fictional world would shape “everyday” things. For example, if you were writing a story set in a world where television and film never existed, then your story should contain small details about things like radio, theatre, literature etc.. instead. But, these things should be presented in the same way as TV/film-related stuff is these days – since they would be a lot more mainstream in that particular world.

If you’re writing historical fiction, then things like this are what can really make your historical fiction feel authentic. Small, everyday details that couldn’t exist in any other period of history are one of the quickest ways to immerse your readers in the world of your story.

Even if it’s something as simple as showing a character from the 1990s picking up some blank VHS tapes or audio cassettes when shopping, small details are incredibly important when writing historical fiction.

So, yes, a single piece of junk mail-related ephemera can say a lot about an entire decade.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Short Story: “Haunt Of The Horror Comics” By C. A. Brown

It’s not that bad, darling. It isn’t as if they’re going to ban them.‘ Mary placed her hands on her hips and stared out at the row of comics. In the dim light of the corner shop, the garish covers almost seemed to glow.

Her eyes settled on the latest issue of The Haunt Of Fear, the cover showing an Egyptian mummy looming large over some gaunt unfortunate who was searching an old crypt for treasure. Beside it, another comic cover proclaimed CRIME DOES NOT PAY above a picture of a handsome gangster tommygunning his way out of a bank vault with sacks of cash under his gun arm. His other arm was, of course, around the shoulders of a beautiful cabaret dancer.

Beside her, Clive let out a sigh: ‘They are banning them in America and that’s the problem. Of course, we get them a few months later. So, we’re fine for now… I think‘ He leant over and opened a comic.

A full-page spread proclaimed THE HOUSE OF DEATH in dripping red letters above an illustration of the Grim Reaper towering above a bucolic landscape whilst a couple, not unlike Clive and Mary, calmly strolled towards a crumbling manor house.

They’re banning them in America?‘ Mary stuttered ‘I thought they were just putting an age limit on them like parliament are going to.‘ She permitted herself a small laugh ‘As if people somehow grow out of these wonderful things when they turn sixteen.

It could be that we’re a little immature, dear.‘ Clive chuckled, as he picked up another horror comic. The strapline proclaimed THE BARONS OF EVIL and, to his delight, he noticed that the cover showed no less than three giant Grim Reapers standing tall against the midnight moonlight.

Does this mean that we’ll have to buy the Telegraph or those awful gossip magazines now?‘ Mary frowned ‘I’m certainly going to miss comics.

Worse.‘ Clive sighed ‘By my guess, the only comics that will be left are The Beano and those ones with people in silly costumes. Of course, no-one reads those.

To prove his point, he knelt down and rifled through the rows of comics until he found one and plucked it out. The cover proclaimed ACTION COMICS # 1 and showed a strongman in blue overalls holding a car above his head. As Mary leaned closer, Clive tapped part of the cover.

Mary raised her eyebrows and smiled: ‘1938?

Rather proves my point, doesn’t it?‘ Clive sighed. ‘The only comics that will be left are these children’s ones. Once they don’t sell, old Beale and a thousand others like him will decide that the shelf-space will be better served with periodicals, almanacks and journals. Our comics, my dear, will die a slow and painful death.

An impish grin flickered across Mary’s face, followed by a sombre frown: ‘It’s kind of fitting, I guess.

Clive tried to think of a witty retort, but he couldn’t. She was right. If popular comics were going to die, then it was only fitting that they went out in a grasping, drawn-out fashion with the Grim Reaper cackling loudly in the background. Or, for the glorious gangsters that graced the covers of the crime comics to be gaoled for life in a cardboard box in a warehouse somewhere, before unceremonious burial in a rubbish tip.

Mary dipped her hand into her bag and opened her purse. Coins clinked in the silent shop. Finally, she said: ‘I’ve got six shillings to spare. You?

Clive rifled his pockets ‘Four and sixpence. I must save the rest though.

Their eyes met and they smiled. Like the last page of every crime comic, they were ready to go out in a blaze of glory. One last triumphant hurrah of comic-buying, before the implacable, zombie-like forces of law and order closed in on them. This was going to be a trove of comics to remember, a purchase of such magnitude that the memory of it would be whispered about in news-stands, tobacconists and corner shops for years to come.

But, they just stood there. Finally, Mary turned to Clive and said: ‘I’m sorry, darling. I just can’t choose. If it’s our last time, then it matters so much more. Whichever ones we leave behind, we’re sure to regret it.

Clive let out a sigh and put on his best Hollywood gangster movie accent: ‘Yeah, doll. Me too.