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To Write Topical Or Not to Write Topical? That is the question!

31/08/2020

The Corona virus. Covid 19. International pandemic. Infections spreading. The curve flattening. Lockdowns imposed. Lockdowns lifted. Vaccine research. An effective vaccine rolled out. New information instantly available at the click of a button from all the continents and all the countries on a daily basis. Who would step in where angels fear to tread! Who would dare to write about this ever-changing scenario? And who would dare to write fiction about a virus that has swept through the world at an alarming rate and changed the way we live and interact with each other?

Melt Down Miracles

My novel, Meltdown Miracles, completed in four frenetic months, dares to do just that. It is a fictionalised account of the autocratic Covid 19 and his nasty little green, spiky germs who are taken on by the empathetic Khaila and her caring workers. But the point of this blog post is not to give you an account of my novel. The point of this blog post is to highlight the challenges of writing topical fiction.

For a start, this type of story has to be written extremely quickly, hence my long hours and much burning of the midnight oil, because, as I have already mentioned, information is constantly changing on an hourly basis and is streaming in live from all over the world in the press, on YouTube channels, on the news – so much so that it’s virtually impossible to keep up with all the statistics, the successes and the failures. But this, after all, I tell myself, is a fictional account – it’s a story. I almost feel like giving a disclaimer though, for example: ‘This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, locales and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental.’ (Thank you, google! What would authors do without you as a resource!)

Challenge number two was to try to make my material sufficiently universal so that despite the outdated facts  (and yes,  my facts about such a topical subject are guaranteed to be outdated - what I write today will be out of date by tomorrow), the ideas and themes in the novel will be of interest to the reader long after the Coronavirus has eventually faded from the scene and a new threat to the world has taken its place. This is, after all, a novel about life versus death, sickness versus health, the desire of the respective characters to cause harm or healing, depending on which camp they’re in. These are universal themes that authors have been grappling with ever since the first book was printed! As the old adage goes, ‘There are no new ideas; only new ways of presenting them’. So here I am trying to present ideas about Corona and Covid in a novel way!

Challenge number three was the soul-searching I’ve had about even thinking about writing a novel about Corona and Covid. Should I indeed, have stepped in ‘where angels fear to tread’ and tackled this subject at all? People all over the world must be up to their ears in it! Surely they want to escape from a topic that is causing such strife in their lives? As someone close to me said, “No-one’s going to want to read a novel about the Coronavirus”. I’m hoping this prophecy will be proved wrong! But obviously I found myself asking this question: Should I rather have chosen to write about happier subjects?

Challenge number four was, for me, the biggest one: creating the character of Covid, not quite from scratch, as the whole world knows he’s mean, destructive and nasty. But to flesh out his character, his actions, and his interactions, mainly with the slaves in his germ army and his chief antagonist, Khaila, was quite a challenge. He is, after all, a disease. What was I thinking trying to make him into a character!! Confession: my imagination was soaring when I wrote this novel, particularly when I created my protagonist and my antagonist.

So in summary, to all those authors out there who write topical novels, I would guess that these four issues are important in writing this type of fiction:

  1. Timing is of the essence. How quickly can you generate your material?
  2. Endurability is a challenge (Will the material date?)
  3. Will the subject matter be of interest to readers or is it ‘over-kill’?
  4. How do my characters fit in to the topical world I have created?                     

Happy writing as you all try to make sense of your world!

Breath of God by Gillian Leggat
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