Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Fact and Fiction

by Matt Lynn

I was interested to read this story in the Telegraph this morning, about how well-financed the Taliban is from the opium trade in Afghanistan, because it touches on the plot of my thriller Death Force, which is about the attempt by some Army officers and mercenaries to make the Taliban a bit poorer by robbing their money.

But it also started me thinking about the lines between fact and fiction and how thriller writers should handle them.

One of the things that I've also liked about the genre is the way it draws on real-life, taking stories from the military, from science, from finance or from politics. Of all the fictional genres, it is the most 'newsy'. Indeed, the best thrillers give you the same sense of immediacy and being close to the action that you get from reading a newspaper.

But, of course, it also creates problems.

A newspaper or website is real-time. A book is on a two to four year time cycle. If I start thinking about a plot right now, it will take a year for me to write it, and another year for it to come out, then a few more months before it comes out in paperback. Then you hope it survives on the shelves for at least two or three years. So someone could be reading it five years after you thought about it, and it has to still seem bang up to date and relevant.

Right now, I'm writing the third in the 'Death Force' series. It's called 'Shadow Force' and involves the unit of mercenaries taking on the pirates in Somalia. I had a discussion with my editor at Headline about whether pirates would still be in the news in 2011 when the book comes out. I reckon they will be, and I talked to a few experts to find out. The pirates, I reckon, will be in and out of the news for years to come (and it would be great if they could take a really big boat the month the book comes out).

But, of course, I can't be sure of that. People might have lost interest by then.

It's really a matter of guesswork - and also trying to figure out what conflicts or stories will be topical for several years, and which are just transitory.

1 comment:

  1. You need to develop the skill of the great sci fi writers - HG Wells, John Wyndham, Orwell, Huxley... they were all prescient.
    Mystic Matt...
    This question of timing is particularly tricky when writing a series. Cut Short is specifically set in the period when it was written. By the time the book was published, it was a year out of date, which was fine. But... if the second book in the series follows on without a break in time in the world of the book, it will be two years out of date. By the time I reach the twentieth book in the series, a new generation will have grown up since the time where my fictional world is set! (OK, maybe twenty books is a tad optimistic)