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Awarded December 2013 for MAKE DO AND MEND by Adam Fitzroy

Friday, 16 August 2013

BETWEEN NOW AND THEN - the question answered

I was thrilled to see Elisa Rolle's review of BETWEEN NOW AND THEN when I woke up this morning, and in particular I loved her speculation about precisely why it was set in the winter of 1991/1992.

In actual fact - although Elisa's theories are absolutely fascinating and I actually wish they were true - the real reason is a lot more down-to-earth than she imagines. The factors controlling the date of the book's setting were that it needed to have taken place before the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 but after the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise in 1987, a very precise window during which Cross-Channel ferries were (barring expensive air travel) the only means of travelling to the Continent from the UK - especially if you wanted to take a vehicle - but were regarded with a certain amount of trepidation by nervous travellers.

Now, add in the fact that the characters would have to be on certain specific roads in order to end up crossing WWI battlefields, and that limited the number of places they could have been visiting; as they weren't likely to be either military history buffs or culture-vultures - they had to be very ordinary, working-class people - football seemed the most obvious reason for the journey. The match between Poland and England, which took place on 13 November 1991, was absolutely ideal - one of those gratuitous pieces of luck which so often elude an author! (It was part of the qualifying campaign for the 1992 European Championship.) November+Flanders added up to "fog" in my mind, giving the time-travel plot both atmosphere and a mechanism, and the fact that it was all a neat 75 years after certain events in the First World War (although the Battle of Torville Wood is completely fictitious) made everything click into place beautifully.

Oh and one more thing; I wanted the guys to be relying on old-fashioned methods of communication like the telephone and the BBC World Service. In an era when everyone has smartphones, problems like a ferry company going bust are so much easier to solve - and so is the business of finding accommodation; when you can just hop online and fine timetables for alternate sailings and book yourself into a nice little guest-house somewhere, everything's just a little bit too safe and predictable to make for a good story!

There are times as a writer when plots/storylines can be extremely awkward to put together - because you want the characters to be somewhere they couldn't possibly have been, or because the situation you want to put them in would be far too easy to get out of. With BETWEEN NOW AND THEN, however, I was very lucky; everything I needed fell into place with very little difficulty - and when a book comes together as smoothly and as readily as that all an author can really do is just hang on tight and let it happen all by itself. I wish more of them would do that, it would make my life a lot easier, but I'm just grateful that it happens that way from time to time; I'll have to remind myself of it, next time I'm stuck with a particularly intractable plot!

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