My Corona Novel
To be honest - fear of death, loss and suffering aside - I felt quite lucky to be a writer when the lock-down hit. First off, my 'products' - books! - were safe. Indeed, reading, that old-fashioned, most un-dangerous and good-for-the-soul activity, was back in fashion. With only walls to stare at 24/7, what better time to finally tackle those must-read classics, with fewer excuses than ever to skim the boring/incomprehensible bits: War and Peace, Ulysses, Proust, the complete works of Dickens... Downloads and book-orders soared. How many remain unread is another question. Because the funny thing about having more time on your hands is that gradually, you get less and less efficient at deploying it. As with office life, it is the busy days when things get done. The not-so-busy ones are full of drift.
The other reason I felt lucky back in March was because I had a novel to finish. Already many weeks overdue - and with my publishers getting understandably twitchy - I thought that a few weeks of total isolation would be just the job for rattling my way through to that blissful final line; which, incidentally, is one of those wily things that you only truly recognise when you have written it. The book would be finished by the end of April, I told my editor. My cupboards were full of soup, I had daily dog walks with my delectable Mabel to keep me sane. I set to work.
Except I didn't. Because I couldn't. For it turns out the teeny matter of a global pandemic raging beyond the confines of one's own front door is a distracting business. I put the hours in, but my brain was a flibbertigibbet, preferring to hop between other, more pressing matters such as infection rates, death tolls, R factors, food shortages and whether dogs could/couldn't contract/transmit the disease.
Worse, was the demoralising sense that my novel, a 'contemporary' story begun in April 2019, depicted a world that no longer existed. A world in which people could hug, and meet, and get on planes and run for trains and fall in love with strangers. A world where there were myriad other topics of conversation besides the crashing tsunami of a killer virus. And so, for a time, I struggled harder than ever. I couldn't get back inside the heads of my characters, I couldn't see why they mattered, or why I should care. Actually, I almost went mad.
But one of the wonderful things about any creative act is that if you keep throwing yourself at it for long enough, it will eventually absorb you. If you allow it to. Gradually, I worked my way back into my story and grew excited again, because the idea behind it is powerful and moving. Yes, there is a context which now, outwardly, is a little different, but context is just that. The only thing that really matters with any work of art is the universal nature of what it depicts. In the case of fiction, it is all about the humanity of the characters: How do they behave under pressure? Who gets what they want and who gets what they deserve? Does good or evil prevail? If the people in a story are credible then their context is of relative import. That is why the book world has so many wonderful genres - about historical times, futuristic times, as well as current times. Humans are hungry for narratives and always will be. They are how we make sense of ourselves.
Two months on, and my new novel bloomed in ways I could never have dreamed, and found its closing line. It is with my wonderful editor at Boldwood Books now. Soon I shall be able to unveil its title. Ahead, lie rounds of edits and the hoo-ha of production. It won't be until autumn that the finished package will hit virtual and actual shelves. The world will look different yet again by then. Another phase of our "new normal". To my readers, however, I hope my story will be one for-all-time. It is only to me that it will always be my 'corona novel'.