Have you ever stopped to think about that parallel universe where the books you read are set? I’m not referring to science fiction or fantasy titles. What I had in mind was cozy mysteries, romances, all sorts of genre fiction that’s apparently set in the world we inhabit but, when you inspect it closely, it’s a case of “it may be the earth but it’s not as we know it”. Jasper FForde famously plays with the whole oddity of book characters in his Thursday Next series, but that really is set in an alternative Britain so doesn’t quite count for the purpose of this blog, no matter how amusing the premise is. Except that he makes a running joke of the fact that his characters don’t do ordinary things like use the toilet or have breakfast, because characters in books hardly ever are seen to perform these everyday activities.
Now clearly there is an element of judicious editing that goes on for stories, because the reader really doesn’t want to see every aspect of the leading man’s day, do they? And if it isn’t relevant to the plot then we don’t need, for example, a description of how he drives to the supermarket and what he sees en route. Nor do we really want all the graphic details of that handsome Regency buck performing his morning wash and brush up because he probably wouldn’t pass muster for our twenty-first century noses.
But I do get frustrated, as a reader or viewer, when basic human needs are treated as though they don’t exist. No, I don’t want the minutiae of what goes on when that hostage tied up in the small garden shed or wherever has a desperate need to pee, but it might be nice to have, at least in passing, an acknowledgment that such a need exists.
Do we as readers/viewers have to suspend all disbelief? Like with that Regency buck, who wouldn’t have been in life as clean-looking nor as fragrant smelling as we assume Colin Firth was in his guise as Mr. Darcy. We certainly have to take a lot of things with a pinch of salt in the realm of mysteries, where the home counties of England seem to be the crime centre of the universe. There is a multiple murder every few weeks in the books and shows based on the Morse/Lewis franchise. If that were real life, nobody would allow their son or daughter to study at Oxford University and you’d surely never be able to get life insurance if you lived in the city.
In the real world, Sussex is not awash with mass murderers, little old ladies don’t solve crimes which have baffled the police, and princes don’t disguise themselves as dustbin men then court and marry shop assistants (even if I could name a real live prince who used to sometimes get his sandwiches at a garage). All of which is a shame, really. Some aspects of the fiction parallel universe seem extremely appealing!
Don’t Kiss the Vicar
Vicar Dan Miller is firmly in the closet in his new parish. Could the inhabitants of a sedate Hampshire village ever accept a gay priest? Trickier than that, how can he hide his attraction for one of his flock, Steve Dexter?
Encouraged by his ex-partner to seize the day, Dan determines to tell Steve how he feels, only to discover that Steve’s been getting poison pen letters and suspicion falls on his fellow parishioners. When compassion leads to passion, they have to conceal their budding relationship, but the arrival of more letters sends Dan scuttling back into the closet.
Can they run the letter writer to ground? More importantly, can they patch up their romance and will Steve ever get to kiss the vicar again?
About the Author
As Charlie Cochrane couldn’t be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice—like managing a rugby team—she writes. Her favourite genre is gay fiction, sometimes historical (sometimes hysterical) and usually with a mystery thrown into the mix.
She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Mystery People, and International Thriller Writers Inc., with titles published by Carina, Samhain, Bold Strokes Books, Lethe, MLR, and Riptide. She regularly appears with The Deadly Dames.
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I think that this is one reason why books set in a different time period are popular, because it’s easier to accept that things are different in that world than it is if you’re reading a contemporary. I agree with you that, while one doesn’t want minutiae which are irrelevant to the plot, an acknowledgement that basic human needs will always be a factor in any story is necessary. Otherwise, the reader is distracted and thrown out of the suspension of disbelief which is part of reading.
I like that point about historicals. Hadn’t thought of that.
Hello, Charlie! This is an excellent point to make, and I agree that we are always writing / reading in a selective universe, if not an entirely alternate one.
I have to say the example you give of a bound hostage never apparently needing the loo across hours or days is one that tends to annoy me. I’d be interested – not in the details of the act per se, but in the logistics of the Bad Guys needing to allow some small measure of freedom.
I like to occasionally mention mundane details, such as waking up in the morning and ‘doing the necessary’ before getting on with more interesting matters – such as returning to bed. 😉 Whether my readers think it was necessary for me to mention the necessary, I don’t know. I have only ever seen one response from someone who could have done without…
Anyway! Thank you for an interesting post.
Your remark about early morning ‘doing the necessary’ made me smile. Yet another thing people rarely seem to do in books. Like taking their shoes off when they get in from a long walk!
Funny you mention hostages and needing to pee. Some of my characters were being held hostage one time and used being taken to the loo to pee as part of their escape plan.
Another one that makes me chuckle is the number of terribly exclusive and discreet BDSM or sex clubs there are in erom. If all those books were set in the same reality the country would be thick with them. 😯 The high street would be like WH Smith, BDSM club, Greggs, sex club, another sex club, Ladbrokes…etc. I think they need to start sharing them. 😀
LOL Indeed. Like the communities where everybody seems to be gay. Provincetown maybe, but rural England?