I’m a full-time independent author who writes contemporary romance. I make a comfortable living being a writer and I love my job. That said, one of the downsides of being a full-time author is the fact that the moment you have finished one book, you barely have time to pat yourself on the back before you’re starting the next one.
Part of this is me, part of this is the economy and reality of publishing these days. It is very much a conveyor belt of production.
So, when I finished a novel over the Easter weekend and sent it off to my editor, my mind immediately switched to my next project.
I’ve never been someone who struggles for ideas for books. In fact, I have a notebook filled with ideas for future projects. Some of these ideas are a line or two, some are pages of outlines. The ideas book is constantly being used and replenished. At any one time, I probably have about fifteen to twenty ideas in the book.
My usual process is to pick up the book, remind myself of what ideas I have lurking within and then see which one grabs my attention at that point. I’ve just finished writing my seventeenth novel so I know this process works very well for me.
However, this time when I leafed through my ideas book I was struck by a thought; do I mention Coronavirus?
I don’t mean do I write a story about the scores of sick and dying and the race for a vaccine. I’m a romance author, I’d like to keep things relatively light and fluffy. But is it possible to write a contemporary romance and not talk about a pandemic that has fundamentally changed lives on a global scale in a way we could never have imagined just two months ago?
There’s a very strong argument to be had that reading, and especially reading contemporary romance, is supposed to be escapism. I’m sure that there are plenty of people would love to dive into a book that avoids all talk of this dreaded invisible killer that lurks around every corner.
But what of realism? As nearly every author knows, if you walk too close to the fictional line there’s a good chance your latest release will be accused of being unrealistic. Readers can only take so much stretching of possibilities before they slam a book shut and declare it ridiculous. In fact, as anyone who uses the three-act structure will know, you only have a limited window during the first act to convince the audience to accept a distorted reality.
If the book I write now will be released in October 2020 then what will the world look like? Coronavirus will certainly still be with us in some form. A pandemic of this type isn’t going to go away in a few weeks or even a couple of months. It’s definitely here to stay.
If I ignore all mention of COVID-19 and my protagonists are having dates in restaurants and taking romantic walks in the park, have I become a fantasy author or would it be classed as historical fiction. Historical as in 2019, back when walks with strangers were allowed and restaurants were open.
While I imagine the appetite for romance pandemic novels is rather low at the moment, will it be exactly what people will need in six months? While many romance novels have some element of angst within them, most finish on a happy note. When we’ve been living with this virus in our society for over half a year, will we be eager to read about the new normal that will no doubt emerge from this crisis? Will we find solace in seeing our protagonists overcome the odds to be together?
When I decided I was going to write about a high-flying businesswoman and a homeless woman, my wife frowned and warned me that it might not be a very good theme for a romance. As is my way, I ignored her and my twelfth novel Going Up was born. While being an LGBTQ novel, it was shortlisted in a mainstream award recently, and it topped many charts last summer. I believe that it’s important to write about the world around us, to not gloss over the ugly bits.
In which case, surely it’s essential to write about this crisis? Or maybe the aftereffects of it? Can our fiction really ignore such an enormous, life-changing event?
I’ve been wondering if I should ignore the elephant in the room for a couple of days now, whether or not I want to make Coronavirus a more real part of my daily life by spending the next couple of months writing a book where it exists. Not a book about Coronavirus as such, but one that references that it happened and maybe reflecting on the things that have changed. There will be an element of guesswork, wondering what life after lockdown but during Coronavirus looks like. Another tick in the ignore the elephant column, because who can correctly predict that?
But when I’m honest with myself, when I push away all the questions of should I or shouldn’t I, I realise that I must.
Coronavirus isn’t going to go away. Life has fundamentally changed and will continue to change. People will not stop falling in love, people will overcome and find new ways to be together.
Finishing up my last novel, which I started writing before lockdown and finished writing in lockdown, I twitched every time the protagonists met at a restaurant, or someone shook hands, or referenced going to the gym. It seemed bizarre to write about those things as if they were still going on. Because they’re not.
We live in a different world now, and I’m going to write about it.