The Rise of the Present Tense

December 2, 2015

Olivia Wolfe’s head slams into the passenger window, dislodging the scarf that conceals her Western features, as the dented Toyota Corolla – Kabul’s favourite car – bounces out of a pot hole. Hastily covering her head, she fails to notice she is being watched by an old, bearded Mesher in a black turban standing at the roadside, who raises a mobile phone to his ear.

‘Can’t we go any faster?’ she asks Shinwari.

(Extract from my new thriller which is still to be edited).

In The Guardian there’s an interesting article about the rise of the present tense in fiction. In it Richard Lea says Kevin Barry, Hilary Mantel and David Mitchell are just some of the many fiction authors using the present tense because of the way it lends immediacy and intimacy to the story and characters.

‘Some books just come alive in the present tense in a way I feel they don’t when told in the past tense,’ says Mitchell.

I couldn’t agree more and that is why my new thriller series starring Olivia Wolfe is in the present tense. I wanted my readers to feel they were in the action and experiencing her thoughts and feelings ‘live’. It happened naturally. I started writing the novel and I found it in the present tense. It was like watching a reality TV show with a camera crew looking over Olivia’s shoulder. I found the emotional engagement with her was more intense and I hope readers will experience this intensity of her fear and horror and fury and joy, just as I did as the author. I also found that Olivai Wolfe’s viewpoint worked best in third person present tense, but when I was inside the head of the psychopathic stalker I was in first person present tense. The reader doesn’t know who the stalker is but sees what is going on inside this mysterious person’s head.

The present tense seems natural for capturing ‘the jitter and flux of events, the texture of them and their ungraspable speed,’ says Hilary Mantel.


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