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Pauline Rowson on using time frames in crime novels

Death Surge - DI Andy Horton Mysteryh

Time frames in novels, and particularly when writing a series, as I do with the DI Andy Horton novels, are a tricky thing.  There is ‘real time’ and there is ‘fictional time’.

In ‘real time’ I write two DI Horton novels a year whereas in ‘fictional time’ the current novels are set over a period of sixteen months, which means there are an awful lot of murders in Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, making it worse that Midsomer Murder on a good day!

Tide of Death - the first DI Andy Horton

Andy Horton was thirty nine when I created him in Tide of Death in 2006 and should now be forty six in ‘real time’ but in fictional time he was forty in September.  It's said that Agatha Christie regretted making Hercule Poirot sixty when she created him because by the time she finished writing about him he would in ‘real time’ have been about a hundred and eight!  In ‘fictional time’ Poirot stayed more or less the same age. I'm not saying that will happen to DI Andy Horton, he may age yet.
 
Although DI Horton first appeared in 2006 I haven't used that particular year as a benchmark, in fact, as the novels have progressed I've tended to set them in a later year but not specifically the year they have been published.  In ‘fictional time’ I have tried to avoid mentioning the actual year they take place.

Following 'fictional time' allows the author to develop the back story. In my case - or rather DI Andy Horton's - it allows me to chart his marital break up, his fight to gain access to his daughter, and the search for the truth regarding his mother’s disappearance over thirty years ago.  These are themes that currently run through the series.

Footsteps on the Shore - Di Andy Horton

One problem when writing police procedural crime novels is that the powers that be i.e. the government in the UK, keep tinkering with the police departments, merging and changing the names and their remits so that it becomes increasingly difficult to keep up with the changes and by the time the novel is published some of the the police departments mentioned could no longer exist in that format.

In the early DI Horton novels the departments mentioned are all correct but as 'real time' has passed some of these departments have changed their names. I could change them and bring them bang up to date but because I have chosen a tight time frame I have decided to leave them for the moment.  If, after writing number twelve in the Horton series which I'm currently working on, I decide to leave a gap and jump forward in time then I will change the police departmental names and structure.  But you can bet by the time I do that and the novel is published they'll have changed again!

Death Surge, the tenth in the DI Andy Horton series was published in the UK and Commonwealth in September 2013 and will be published in the USA on 1 January 2014.