Pop Culture – To use or not to use, that is the question ~ Sunday Spotlight by Guest Lillian Francis

Prism Book Alliance® would like to thank author Lillian Francis for guesting today on our Sunday Spotlight feature.


Pop Culture – To use or not to use, that is the question:

Okay, so the quote that I bastardised in the title of this post could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be referred to as pop culture. I’m pretty sure good old Will had his imitators and fanboys back in the day, but even he could never have anticipated being quoted on a random blog half a millennia in the future. (Shakespeare would have made an awesome blogger, just saying.)

This post was inspired by an email exchange I had with Liam Livings where we touched on this very subject; to follow our hearts and liberally sprinkle our manuscripts with titbits, film references and quotes, or to quash our natural instincts and subscribe to the school of thought that claims you should leave all form of popular culture out of your stories.

The ‘bah-humbug’ers generally claim two reasons for sucking the joy from your story. (Can you tell which camp I fall into?)

It dates them.

But then doesn’t everything?

The clothes the characters wear, the food they eat, the car they drive.

The current trend for bearded heroes (even outside of a Bears anthology).

Gay marriage.

When we write historical fiction we stuff them full of references that will help the reader date the story so why should we purposely leave that sort of information from a contemporary.

It excludes readers who aren’t ‘in the know’.

The same could be said for someone that doesn’t understand the rules of cricket. Should I not allow my character to wield the willow because there is a chance the reader won’t understand the LBW rule?

I do agree that we should be wary when choosing to include pop culture. The subject matter and amount of references should be carefully considered. There are no points awarded for using the most obscure quotes from a fandom only a handful of people have heard of.

Things that have taken on an iconic status are normally not an issue. Daleks, Darth Vadar, Indiana Jones. Even if you’ve never seen Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark or watched Doctor Who (sorry, what!) most people will know what you are referring to when you compare a character’s lack of emotion, breathing issues, or adventurous spirit to any of the above.

I think the issue is less what you include—if your MC is a comic book geek then surely he should drop the names of his favourite story arcs, or wax lyrical on the movie versions and their divergence from canon. Of course they should, and don’t call me Shirley—and more how much you chose to mention. Lines of back and forth as the MCs quote dialogue from a show you’ve never seen before is a definite turn off for readers. I read a book where the characters had a whole page of ‘banter’ quoting from a show I had never seen and I lost interest fairly quickly. In fact, I didn’t just lose interest, I got lost.

I think the answer to this quandary is, like the best things in life, all about moderation.

Most people have heard of FRIENDS.

They could probably name some or all of the characters. Less will recognise Central Perk or Smelly Cat.

Fewer still will remember Marcel, Janice or Richard.

“Oh My God!” Might ring some bells. As would “We were on a break.” (They totally weren’t.) but how many people would crack a smile at “Phoebe, I’m sorry, but I think Jacques Cousteau is dead.”

It is all a question of degrees.

I’m not going to deny it, I like pop culture references, or even the obvious lack thereof. I think they can give an insight into the character, even if their pop culture knowledge is zero, in the same way as the shoes they chose to wear or the type of restaurant they pick to eat in.

Let’s face it, it’s hard to avoid popular culture in these days of high speed, superfast, 24 hour access to just about everything. It, like love, is all around us. (Or so the song claims.)

I’m dropping song lyrics now but hey, if it’s good enough for Deadpool, it’s good enough for me.


And there I go again.

Find out if I follow my own suggestions on popular culture references in Theory Unproven, where I may or may not mention Indiana Jones, Torchwood, George Michael, and Firefly.

Theory Unproven

Working with elephants in their natural habitat has always been Eric Phillips dream. Getting what he’s always desired introduces him to Tyaan Bouwer, the bush pilot that flies in his supplies, and Eric discovers the allure of South Africa goes beyond the wildlife and the scenery.

But in an area where bushveld prejudices and hatred bleed across the borders, realising their love will be a hard fought battle. Keeping hold of it might just kill them.

* * * * *


An unexpected job offer finds zoologist Eric Phillips transported from the elephant house at a zoo just outside London to the wildlife reserves in the South African bushveld.  Being able to work with his own herd of elephants, and analysing their behaviour, more than makes up for the remote nature of the research station. The one bright spot on the horizon, quite literally if the sun hits it at the right angle, is the silver freight plane that brings his supplies and half an hour in the company of Tyaan, the gorgeous but taciturn pilot.

With wide open spaces and clear skies, Tyaan Bouwer is never be happier than when he’s flying over the bushveld, the landscape beneath him a changing vista of colour and texture. It’s that view and the freedom to be able to climb in his plane and fly that’s kept him in the small town where he was born and raised. South Africa might be a rainbow nation but in the northern regions where neighbouring countries are far from liberal minded, prejudices and hatred bleed across the borders. Tyaan’s not in the closet, not really. Get him to the city and with his strong, silent routine and he can pull a guy without even trying. He’s fine with that as long as they don’t press him into trying to see them again. It’s not like he wants a relationship. And just maybe when he gets home he’s hovering in the doorway of that closet, but he’s never met anyone worth taking the risk for.

The day he’s sent to Limpopo to collect Eric that all changes. He tries to bury the feelings of want that Eric conjures in him, but he can’t resist the bonds of friendship that forms between them.

As a zoologist Eric likes to think that he’s adept at anticipating how a creature will react in any given situation, and they don’t come any more beautiful and skittish than Tyaan. Despite Tyaan’s jittery behaviour Eric has a theory they could be good together but when things go catastrophically wrong it appears their relationship will remain a theory unproven.


Published by Love Lane Books


Available at

Amazon UK
Amazon US
& all the other usual suspects
Link to Theory Unproven at Goodreads


The hollow echo of footfalls on the ramp drew Eric’s attention back to the pilot. Tiredness was pulling on Eric’s nerves, leaving him out of sorts, and the lack of conversation was doing nothing to ease his irritability.

Taking the bull by the horns, Eric graced the pilot with the brightest smile he could muster. “So, do you work for The Foundation too?”

“No.” The man’s stride didn’t even falter as he continued toward the next crate.

Not chatty, then. Downright rude, in fact.

The firm slap of a hand on his back caught him just off centre, almost pitching him forward, and Akibo’s fingers curled over his shoulder and squeezed.

“I see you’ve met Tyaan. Tyaan Bouwer. He’s the local freight pilot. He’ll run your supplies into the research station every week.”

It was almost as if the pilot finally saw Eric as anything other than an annoyance for the first time. Tyaan stepped toward him, straightening to his full height, and Eric resisted the urge to check out the breadth of his chest, instead raising his gaze the few inches’ difference in their height to meet Tyaan’s eyes head-on.

“Tyaan, this is Eric. Eric Philips. He’s the new researcher out at olifant velde.” Akibo turned back to Eric. “That’s the local name for your part of the reserve. It means elephant fields.”

Howzit.” Tyaan stuck out his hand. Eric extended his own automatically, and Tyaan pressed their palms together, enveloping Eric’s fingers in warmth. He gave Eric’s hand a short, sharp shake before releasing him from the firm grip. “The elephant man, hey?”

Eric smiled. “I know I’m no oil painting, but I hope I’m not that bad.”

Tyaan’s top-to-toe appraisal was so fleeting that Eric thought he’d imagined it. An expression skittered across the pilot’s face. Interest, curiosity—Eric wasn’t sure. It manifested itself as a bright spark in his eyes and the faint quirk of his lips, as if he were biting the inside of his cheek. The look vanished before Eric could really work out what it meant, but the amber-coloured eyes still seemed to hold a welcome within them.

“Tyaan’s a man of few words, but you won’t find a finer bush pilot. He’s reliable too. He’ll never leave you wanting.”

Wanting. Despite the pilot’s brusque manner, Eric wasn’t surprised he already wanted to press Tyaan up against the shiny metal body of his plane.

“I’m going up front,” Akibo said, blissfully unaware of the thoughts rampaging through Eric’s head. At least Eric hoped that was the case, since he followed that statement with “Coming, Eric?”

In his dreams, maybe.

“It’s hot enough to fry boerewors in there.” Tyaan shifted his attention away from Eric and addressed Akibo. “Leave the doors open. I’ll only be a few more minutes.”

Eric eyed the pile of sacks sitting in the dirt. More like half an hour. Tyaan’s shoulder and back muscles shifted beneath his shirt as he hefted a sack onto his shoulder and took another one in each hand. The tendons flexed and released in his bare forearms from where he grasped the corners of the sacks tightly.


Realising he was being spoken to, Eric dragged his attention from the large vein that was running up from Tyaan’s wrist to elbow. “No, I’ll stay out here for a moment. Not used to the heat yet.”

Akibo nodded and, shifting his document bag to the other shoulder, headed toward the front of the plane, leaving Eric with the pilot and an awkward silence.

When Tyaan completed several trips into the plane and the silence had stretched on beyond what Eric could bear—although Tyaan didn’t appear bothered by it—Eric groped for something to say. He waited until Tyaan reached the top of the ramp, not wanting to startle him with his latest pile of precariously balanced sacks.

“It’s an unusual name.” Then Eric added as an afterthought, “Tyaan.”

Blithering idiot! As if the man didn’t know his own name.

Tyaan lowered the sack from his shoulder and placed it with the others. The pile outside the plane was already half the size it had been. Maybe the pilot had been right in his estimate. He pushed his hat back, swiped his arm across his brow and looked at Eric as if he’d just asked him whether he preferred to top or bottom.

“It’s Afrikaans.”

“Oh. So, do you speak Afrikaans?” A worrying thought started gnawing at Eric. “Do they speak it in the town?”

“Sure. I had to, my grandfather refused to speak English. Most people speak English with the odd word thrown in. You’ll get used to it.”

Tyaan returned to his sacks, the conversation obviously over. But Eric wasn’t ready to give up. He liked that gravel-edged sound that emanated from Tyaan’s lips. He could almost see the vibration beneath pale bristles on the pilot’s throat and itched to place his fingers there to feel the movement.

“I like your plane.” Eric cast his gaze over the large silver plane he was standing next to. “Looks like the one in that Indiana Jones movie. You know, the one where they fall out of the plane in the life raft. Temple of Doom, that’s the one…”

His voice trailed off as he became aware that Tyaan had stopped hefting sacks and was just staring, hands on his hips, his expression open and amused.

“It’s not that old. That movie was set in 1935. This is a de Havilland DHC-4 Caribou. They didn’t start making these until 1958…”

So that was how to get the reticent man talking, Eric realised as he allowed the low rumble to drift over him in a reassuring array of facts and figures. Get him on the subject of his plane. There was no question this aircraft was loved and well cared-for and Eric no longer had any qualms about climbing aboard.

“…but you don’t really want to know all that. I’m just boring you.”

“No.” I could listen to you talk all day long. “It’s fascinating.”

Evidently Tyaan had run out of words. He shrugged and turned his attention back to his cargo. “It’s old, but you’re safe in my hands. I promise you that.”

Eric didn’t doubt it; he just hoped one day he might get the chance to find out.

About Lillian Francis

Author of gay romance. Happy Endings guaranteed. Eventually.

An avid reader, Lillian Francis was always determined she wanted to write, but a “proper” job and raising a family distracted her for over a decade. Over the years and thanks to the charms of the internet, Lillian realized she’d been writing at least one of her characters in the wrong gender. Ever since, she’s been happily letting her “boys” run her writing life.

Lillian now divides her time between family, a job and the numerous men in her head all clamouring for their stories to be told.

Lillian lives in an imposing castle on a wind-swept desolate moor or in an elaborate ‘shack’ on the edge of a beach somewhere depending on her mood, with the heroes of her stories either chained up in the dungeon or wandering the shack serving drinks in nothing but skimpy barista aprons.

In reality, she would love to own a camper van and to live by the sea.

Terrible at social networking, Lillian can be found most regularly on Facebook or Goodreads

At her blog when she feels she has something of interest to say. Happy endings guaranteed. Eventually.

And sporadically (and not as often as she should be) on Twitter @LillianFrancis_

Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

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10 thoughts on “Pop Culture – To use or not to use, that is the question ~ Sunday Spotlight by Guest Lillian Francis

  1. I love pop culture in my books, whether I get it or not, it’s a great way to describe the time the story is set in. 🙂

    (I’m still waiting for a sequel to this one…)

    • I just can’t help writing them into my stuff 🙂

      I know. I wish I could say I’m working on it but I’ve not done any serious writing for about a month. I did start plotting a sequel but you know how long these things take me!

  2. Pop culture references date things. Everything dates things. I read a fabulously 70s book & it was full of pop references. I bought books & films & music mentioned. It’s like a pop culture safari.
    I watch Gilmore Girls which is full of pop culture references. Like everything it should be done in moderation.

    • Absolutely, unless you plan to write in a vacuum (or a total AU of fantasy or sci fi) then things you mention in passing are going to date your work. Bendy buses. Soda stream. Space dust. The list is endless 😉

  3. I love pop culture references! I think it makes what you’re reading more relateable. I LOVE coming across a pop culture reference in a book because then I think “Hey, an author that likes the same things I DO!” and often times I find myself seeking out more of that author’s works because if they like the same things I do, chances are I’m going to like the way they write.

    JMHO 😀

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