Writing about social issues, by Elizabeth Kay
|These bottles don't contain fizzy drinks.|
They are full of petrol, which people can buy
in small quantities for their mototr bikes.
Health and safety would have a fit.
This is a tough one, because things change all the time, and what you write may be out of date by the end of the week. I tend not to put identifiable dates in fiction, nor do I mention specific sums of money. I think living through inflation made me think very hard about that! I tend to say that something would have bought a five bedroom house in Surrey, or cost less than a litre of milk. I have found the best way to write about issues is to set something slightly in the future – or in an invented country that bears a strong resemblance to somewhere else. I was a winner of the South London Writing competition a long time ago with a story that was set at the height of Thatcherism. Those that remember will recall Cardboard City on the South Bank, sheltered by the overhanging walkways, where dozens of homeless congregated. This is an extract from the story, called Retrospective:
"...everyone’s heard of the Tower, but it wasn’t quite what I’d expected. The walls were covered with the most amazing grafﬁti — words, images, colours, designs, and the huge expanses of ﬂoor were ﬁlled with little polystyrene structures, all different, all individual, each one four square metres of home. They reminded me of snowﬂakes — superﬁcially similar, profoundly different, and very, very White.
|Fast food outlet. Snakes, rats and egrets.|
The owner had torn up little squares of old magazines, stuck them on to the outside of his computer crate and recreated a sun-lit park. The trunks of the plane trees were dappled with the distinctive yellow of those diphtheria leaﬂets, and the deep-purple shadows were the unmistakable violet of budget condom packets. It was surprisingly effective, and I stopped to look.
‘There’s a really tremendous one round the corner,’ Florence told me, so we went to see. The householder had managed to present the illusion of a window on the side of his box, with a vase of ﬂowers on the sill and Victorian lace curtains, painstakingly cut from discarded tissue paper. The perspective of the room’s interior was very clever, and I found myself smiling at a piece of representational art for the ﬁrst time in years."
|The Floating Market. The other side of the houses open onto a river.|
|A road full of rubbish|
|Sihanoukville - the most depressing city I have ever seen.|
|Note the live electrical cables overhead,|
which make good swings for the kiddies.
|More rubbish, with motorbike (presumably in working order)|