As an author living in France, being stuck indoors for weeks because of the Coronavirus doesn’t sound that different perhaps to everyday life.
We authors certainly know how to spend time alone. Most of us, working in isolation every day, already have routines to keep ourselves sane: the cups of coffee, the morning yoga, the afternoon jog, whatever it takes to keep mind and body healthy. So in a way, we’re mentally equipped to deal with all this time in isolation. We could probably even give you some tips.
But époque defining events such as the Coronavirus outbreak provide unexpected challenges to authors too. Because beyond the question of how to actually concentrate on writing when the world outside is going into meltdown – how to think about fictional characters when you’re worried about flesh and blood loved ones – the great question is, do you write the virus into your plot or leave it out?
I, for example, am currently 2/3 of the way through writing a novel in which the bulk of the action takes place in the year 2020. But 2020 suddenly isn’t looking much like any other year. So is it really possible to write a novel that doesn’t reference being stuck indoors during a Coronavirus outbreak?
Some novelists write outside time, refusing to mention politics or world events. It’s fiction, they say, and so is the year that it takes place in. Their readers appreciate being able to escape to a place which has none of the real-world problems they see on the news every day. And for authors such as these, as long as their loved ones aren’t affected, the only effects of the epidemic may be to give them more uninterrupted time to write.
But for authors who write novels that are clearly situated in “here and now,” for authors who feel that this is an essential part of what makes fiction feel “real” the challenge can be quite daunting.
Moving my plot backwards would means having to write a general election and Brexit into the action. Moving it forwards would mean writing Coronavirus into everyone’s past, and let’s face it, we have no idea how that’s going to pan out yet. Are all of their grand parents now dead or did Boris Johnson’s government suddenly change tack? So what to do? It’s a real dilemma that’s throwing a spanner in the middle of a 6 month work project that I’m supposed to finish within the next two months.
For now, I think I’m going to shift the entire plot forward a few months and write the damned virus in. To do this, I’m going to have to stick two characters who, for plot purposes, need to get together, into self-imposed isolation. Their love is going to have to be a love born of being locked up together! And as I continue to write those final chapters, I’ll be watching the news closely to find out how long their kids need to stay home from school (and thus be far more heavily written in) and whether they need to see a constant stream of hursts rolling past the window or troops in the streets.
My characters are all biting their nails as they wait to see what happens… So as we worry about our very real loved ones, spare a thought too for my fictional characters whose destinies are just as uncertain as our own.
My latest novel The Road to Zoe was published on the 12th of March, 2020.