Time Kills Books - Or Does It?

I've got a new book coming out shortly. It's called No Escape and it's a romantic thriller about a newly widowed New York cop who tries to escape his grief by taking part in an exchange program and going to rural North Wales. There he meets a tough single mother who hates everyone and trusts no one, and finds himself charged with protecting her as she becomes embroiled in some nefarious activities through her drug-dealing brother.

I started writing the book about fifteen years ago when I was working in an office next door to Bangor Police Station and met a couple of the drugs squad officers there. The book describes the local area in considerable detail and yesterday, mid-way through editing, I decided it would be fun to remind myself of the place I lived for so long via Google maps. You can imagine my disappointment as I discovered that the police station, bus station and Students' Union, which all feature heavily in the book, are no longer there. In fact, where the police station and my old office stood is now a shopping mall. So it's not published yet, but my book is already out of date. Luckily I'm guessing my primarily American audience will never realise that the locations I describe in an obscure Welsh city no longer exist. Ssshhh! Don't tell them!

The inexorable march of time also gave the lie to my last book, Honeymoon Heist. Part of the book describes the pearl factory where Rodney, my hero, is able to make a pearl necklace for his wife. Guess what? Last time I went to Majorca I discovered that the pearl factory is now little more than a shop, with the actual pearl making going on behind the scenes, and customers are no longer allowed to craft their own pearls as they used to.

There's a possibility that my first book, Haven, may be republished next year, but I've lost the original manuscript (it was about three computers ago) so I'm having to scan it in from the hard copy book. This affords me a unique opportunity to bring it up-to-date and, despite only being ten years old, it really needs it. In one scene the children are playing with an electronic game - remember them? Now I've upgraded it to a Nintendo DSi. And in an early scene when Gwen settles down to listen to the scriptures on tape, now it's a CD, but even that will be out of date soon and there may already be some readers who wonder why she doesn't have them on her iPod.

The printed word dates very easily and it's rare to get an opportunity to update it like this, but I don't know that it matters much. When watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer I don't wonder why Buffy didn't just call Willow and Xander on her mobile phone to tell them where the weirdo-of-the-week has imprisoned her. I understand that everything is of its time, and I like to think that readers recognise that the book in their hand is a snapshot of the world as it was when the book was published (or, in the case of No Escape, ten years ago). My daughter had just discovered Enid Blyton, whose books are horribly dated (not to mention frequently racist, sexist and patronising), but it doesn't stop Angharad loving them.

So while time may make all books go out of date, it also adds something - it reminds the reader of how things were in the year on the flyleaf, and that may sometimes be a real history lesson.

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