Back in 1996, I had an idea for a pandemic love story. It was set in a house shared by four young twenty-somethings, struggling to survive through an epidemic that was bringing the country to a stand-still. One of the women would be ill, while two of her friends try to keep her alive at the same time as scavenging for food and medical supplies. The fourth member of the house was a ghost, only seen in the imagination of the sick woman, her ex-boyfriend who has already died from the virus. It might sound quirky, but it was meant to be dystopian, with the sick woman using her feverish dreams to escape the horrors of a future world with little hope.
Obviously, this has been on my mind quite a bit recently. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem quite so far-fetched, and not at all futuristic. The covid-19 pandemic would work really well as the background for my story, providing the perfect conditions for the plot. Does that make it spookily prophetic? Not really – devastating plagues and end-of-the world outbreaks have always made good material for novels. I imagine that in 12-18 months time, there will be another epidemic, of novels about pandemics and quarantines and isolations. All over the world, budding writers will be using their lock-down to write the novels they always planned to write, and I suspect a good amount of them will reflect the current situation. If it really is just the lack of time that stops people getting their novels written, we can expect there to be a boom in the book trade in the next year or so. Even if we discount all the half-hearted attempts that go no further than the first chapter, I think we can still expect the publishers’ and agents’ slush piles to be heaped staggeringly high this time next year.
Of course, I include myself in this. Two weeks ago, the school I work at was closed to all but the children of key-workers, and the teaching assistants were told to stand down until further notice. If I wasn’t so worried about the effect the virus was having on the world, I would have been pleased to have all this paid time off work. Actually, I can’t lie, I am pleased, because just a few weeks before all this began to get serious, work on my new novel actually started to take off. After a year of planning and sketching and developing, I started writing proper chapters and the beginnings of a first draft. I don’t know why it started now – it just did. Somehow, the sparks got hotter, the kindling began to burn instead of fizzling out and the flames finally took hold. I am writing a new novel and with all this free time, it is making much better progress than I anticipated.
It isn’t, I hasten to add, my pandemic love story. I can’t write that now, even if I wanted to – it would be far too clichéd. That story never did go any further than the idea jotted in a notebook. But it came with a plan to match it with two other stories with a linking theme of love. One was set in the past, one was set in the present and this would be the one with a futuristic setting. I imagined them each as short novella, maybe exploring the idea that love doesn’t change, no matter where or when the setting. And then, like so many ideas, it went no further. Well, not as a whole. As I said, the futuristic story stayed in the notebook. But the other two took on a life of their own.
The story set in the present day was about an indie band, whose members were exploited by a greedy and manipulative manager. I had some great characters there, including a really sexy guitar player called Wayne (yes, really) who gives up his playboy ways when he falls in love with the female lead singer, even though the evil manager doesn’t approve of them being together and blackmails the whole band to make them split up. I enjoyed it so much that I actually wrote quite a lot of it, and would really like to see it completed one day. The trouble is, I don’t know enough about the hedonistic life-style of modern rock stars; I wanted it to be gritty and realistic but I was always worried that my idea of hedonism would be too tame. Also, I have gravitated towards writing historical fiction rather than contemporary, and rural rather than urban, so this just doesn’t fit with my style.
However, the third story in that collection, the one set in the past, did fit my style perfectly: 19th Century, small country village, the rituals of courting and finding a spouse – it ticks all the boxes of my genre. And I can now announce that this is the story that I have been developing for the last year. (I wrote about it in https://mjschofieldauthor.com/2019/02/25/a-writing-experiment/ and https://mjschofieldauthor.com/2019/03/31/a-writing-experiment-the-results/) It is still the same story, but has grown from a novella to a novel in its own right. I won’t say anything else about it, except to say that it is called The Hawthorn Bride. I have now written four chapters. It is not my pandemic story, but it is my Lock-down Novel.