Today I’m thrilled to welcome Kate Vane, author of Brand New Friend, to my blog. Kate is sharing a fascinating post about memory and how easily things can become mixed up in our heads.
Messing with my memories
One of the genres I love to read, but would hate to write, is historical fiction. I love the way that the best authors make the world of the past come alive, saving me the trouble of doing all the reading and research and weighing up the merits of the various sources.
However, I thought I would have no difficulty in setting the flashbacks in Brand New Friend in eighties Leeds. After all, I was there. But drawing on your memories is not as straightforward as it first seems.
We mix things up. Each time we retrieve a memory, we potentially corrupt it, throwing in new details, erasing others, while being convinced by the veracity of what we recall. I found this when I came to fact-check my own head. A song that I thought was part of the soundtrack of my student days in Leeds was actually released a couple of years later. Conversely, I had forgotten that pound coins came out a couple of years earlier.
I had one scene where two of my characters each go to the bar with their own pound note. When I checked, both notes and coins were in circulation at that time so I decided not to change it. I thought it was a nice image – and it showed the characters didn’t want to be stuck with each other after they had bought their drinks!
Facts can be verified but it’s more tricky to regain the mindset of 30 years ago. What was it like when we didn’t have mobile phones? Most of us didn’t even have landlines in our student houses. You went to a pay phone if you had to call someone. Your friends lived close by so you mostly just went round to see them, and probably stayed for the afternoon or the evening. Money was scarce but time seemed limitless.
If you arranged to meet someone in a pub and they didn’t turn up, you just went home. You didn’t have that exhausting process where people send you texts every five minutes to make minor refinements to the arrangement (or even more absurdly, to tell you that they are progressing towards your agreed rendezvous exactly as planned).
You only owned a few albums and played them to death, because they were relatively expensive, and you taped them and swapped tapes with people. If you really liked someone you made a compilation. If you knocked out the small squares on the top of the cassette it stopped you recording over it, but if you changed your mind, you could put tape over the holes.
Although the characters and the story are fictional, I did draw on certain locations. For example the shared house where Paolo lives has the same layout as one of the houses I lived in. Like the characters in the book we spent a lot of time in the living room listening to music, and some of our friends were musicians and used to bring their instruments round and play.
Now, when I try to picture how we were back then, the room seems really crowded. There are the people who were actually there, whose features have faded over time, and there are figures of characters from the story, who are newer and therefore more vivid. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the two.
Beware of drawing on your memories because, like one of those home tapes, you are in danger of overwriting them!
About Brand New Friend
Friend. Liar. Killer?
BBC foreign correspondent Paolo Bennett is exiled to a London desk – and the Breakfast sofa – when he gets a call from Mark, a friend from university in eighties Leeds. Paolo knew Mark as a dedicated animal rights activist but now a news blog has exposed him as an undercover police officer. Then Mark’s former police handler is murdered.
Paolo was never a committed campaigner. He was more interested in women, bands and dreaming of a life abroad. Now he wonders if Mark’s exposure and his handler’s murder might be linked to an unexplained death on campus back when they were friends. What did he miss?
Paolo wants the truth – and the story. He chases up new leads and old friends. From benefit gigs and peace protests, to Whatsapp groups and mocktail bars, the world has changed, but Mark still seems the same.
Is Mark the spy who never went back – who liked his undercover life better than his own? Or is he lying now? Is Paolo’s friend a murderer?
Buy from Amazon: https://mybook.to/brandnewfriend
About Kate Vane
Kate Vane writes (mostly) crime fiction. Brand New Friend is her fourth novel.
She has written for BBC drama Doctors and has had short stories and articles published in various publications and anthologies, including Mslexia and Scotland on Sunday.
She lived in Leeds for a number of years where she worked as a probation officer. She now lives on the Devon coast.
You can find Kate at the links below:
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5 thoughts on “Author Kate Vane shares her thoughts on memory in today’s post! #BrandNewFriend @k8vane”
Memory is a funny thing. I was a psych major in college, and some of the studies we had to read on memory make you afraid to trust your own brain. lol.
This is really interesting! I agree, too, that writing historical scenes (or entire novels, really) means more than just getting facts right. It means capturing the essence of that time and place. Thanks, both!
Yes, I think the hardest thing in historical fiction is to get how people thought. I’ve been reading Bernard Cornwell’s Anglo-Saxon series and think he does a great job of writing characters we can understand but who have very different values.
What a fabulous article – Kate has mentioned some really interesting issues when trying to mine our own pasts…
Thanks! I guess even when you’re writing about other worlds you’re drawing on your own experience in some sense. The challenge is to take it and make something new.