So, fellow writers of contemporary fantasy, what are we doing about Covid-19 in our fiction?

As I get The Green Man’s Silence ready for publication, this is very much on my mind. One of the central elements of these books is showing recognisable, everyday normality alongside the supernatural that’s so close even if most folk can’t see it. That’s a key part of their appeal. I’ve been careful not to date these stories so far too precisely, but they have essentially reflected the years when they’ve been written. I researched and wrote this forthcoming book through the winter of 2019-2020 and that’s what you’ll see on the page.

What do I do now? If I show Dan’s life as it would be without the current pandemic, then the next book becomes a fantasy that’s far more distinct from the new abnormality that we now realise will be with us for an ongoing and indeterminate time. Will readers want that added escape, or will the disconnect with their current lives be too jarring amid the ongoing everything?

But is the alternative even worse? Not going to lie, I have been thinking about the ways that the UK lockdown, and the dire economic consequences we’re now looking at, will affect Dan and Blithehurst where he works, as well as the people he knows – and yes, how the dryads and others will react. I have quite a fun short story idea…

Except none of this is remotely fun. My family are so far unscathed, but the total of people I know personally and professionally, who’ve suffered a family death due to Covid-19, is now into double figures. This is serious for us all, and heart-breaking for tens, if not hundreds of thousands, in the UK alone. Won’t putting that grim reality on the page alongside myth-based puzzles and perils simply wreck reader suspension of disbelief?

I am reminded of the rewrites to the end of Western Shore, the novel I had finished writing just before the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004. A tidal wave formed a large part of the backdrop to the conclusion. My editor and I agreed that had to be changed, no question about it. Readers seeing awful news footage in their mind’s eye as they read would ruin the book for them. Add to that, as happened to at least one writer whose book with an incidental tidal wave was just about to hit the shops, there was the risk of being accused of callously cashing in.

So I am pondering these questions, and thus far, not finding any answers. Your perspectives and observations are welcome.

2 comments

  1. Charles Stross has stopped writing about the immediate future. He had to redo a big chunk of a novel at one stage. Blog posts like this explain in more detail: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2020/04/reality-keeps-stealing-my-line.html

    Personally I have suspension of disbelief that can deal with weird history much better than bad science (or bad spelling, after three attempts to spell sicence). To some extent, yes, try not to write about my parents being murdered, but at the same time I’m not reading fantasy to get commentary on current affairs. There’s always something happening somewhere, and always people affected by a real example of anything plausible you might write about.

    It’s more the political blowback you might get if there’s unfavourable publicity. And that’s a professional call I’m glad I don’t have to make.

    1. I hadn’t seen that piece by Charlie – thanks for the link!

      Yeah, this stuff gets tricky fast. If I make the wrong call and cause offence, intent soon becomes a secondary consideration in situations like now.

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