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I’m not sure I can write fiction anymore. I don’t know how to write a psychological thriller set here and now in this pandemic, this lockdown.
I think of those movies made during World War II that completely ignored the war. Were they set during a slightly earlier or slightly later time? Or an alternative universe?
Should I do that? I don’t think I can do that.
It’s Saturday afternoon in NYC. It’s 20c (68f) and the sun is shining, the air is crystalline, conversations and laughter (!) drift up from the street below, cars drive by, music blares. NYC sounds like NYC.
We’re in the sixth week of the lockdown.1 NYC shouldn’t sound like NYC. NYC shouldn’t be jumping. There shouldn’t be so many people out on the streets. Hundreds of people are still dying here every day. We’re supposed to be quarantining.
I haven’t been outside since Tuesday. My autoimmune disease has been in full flare. I was hoping to go out for a walk today. But, no, it’s impossible. There are too many people on my street.
It’s nothing compared to how busy the streets would have been pre-shut down. It’s our first sunny day after several days of cold and rain. Before the streets would have been jammed. The numbers that are freaking me out are tiny.
There’s no where in the USA it’s harder to maintain distance. NYC is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Our footpaths are too narrow, so we spill out onto the roads. Many of which are also too narrow. Especially today when there’s more cars cruising around than I’ve seen since this started.
It’s not that people are ignoring the lockdown. We’re allowed to go out to exercise, to shop for essentials. I look out the window: most are wearing masks, they’re trying to distance. But it’s impossible.
I’m hearing a lot of sirens today.
I stay inside and work. But I don’t turn to rewriting the YA psychological thriller or the adult one I’ve written ten chapters of. I haven’t touched either since before I spent the summer in Sydney. The summer of a million fires. The summer of having to wear masks to go outside because the air was unbreathable.
Back then I didn’t work on them because I didn’t know if I should include the fires, by which I mean climate disasters. Neither book, though supposedly set in this world, even touched upon how much hotter, more dangerous and unlivable our world is becoming. Leaving those realities out felt wrong.
The adult thriller begins on a plane. As did my last novel, My Sister Rosa. I love writing scenes on planes. It’s so contained, so intense. The characters are jammed in with hundreds of others, yet also in a tiny bubble.
But the airline industry may not exist the way I wrote it, after this pandemic is over. It may change as dramatically as it did after 9/11, or more dramatically.
I don’t know how to write fiction set in this world.
I work instead on non-fiction book proposals. Books that don’t ignore this world of bushfires, floods, tsunamis and hurricanes and all the other disasters made worse and more frequent by industrialization, by the steady rise in carbon emissions.
But these non-fiction books don’t touch on the pandemic, on this lockdown, on my world right now. That book can’t be written until this over, not well. Besides I don’t want to write that book. There will be a million such books.
When we come out of this pandemic, will we really want to read books about it?
I can’t even read too much about it now. I follow the immediate news, I read a few articles, I listen to the ABC’s Coronacast, but too much of that and I start to freak out. Mostly I read books about the history and future of the fashion industry and talk about it with folks on Instagram.
My account there is a huge part of my mental health regime. It’s where I found a worldwide community of people, who care passionately about transforming the fashion industry from one of the world’s biggest polluters and exploiters of workers, into a sustainable, clean, and ethical one. A deeply important mission done while wearing gorgeous vintage and responsibly made clothes. That’s my kind of revolution.
Maybe when this pandemic is over I’ll write a novel set in that world.
- Or is it the seventh? I’m losing track of time. I know it’s Saturday because we do the weekend quiz with the family back in Sydney every Friday and Saturday night. We did the first weekend quiz last night. Thus Saturday. [↩]