Sunday 7 June 2020

Covid Stories

One of my students said that she was struggling to make any progress with her novel as it was set in the current day and everything had changed. I felt for her. My current story is set (slightly) in the past, so this wasn’t something I’d given much thought to, previously.

When you consider it, even describing a contemporary scene as ‘every day’ as walking down the street would bear no resemblance in a balmy summer scene of 2020 to one you may have written, or read, last year. The wearing of face coverings on public transport will be either mandatory or encouraged across the UK in a few days’ time and I see no reason why people will remove their masks before proceeding on foot to their destination. Once walking, whether people opt for the two metre dance, bouncing like leprechauns from pavement to kerb and even into the road to keep their distance from potential contamination, or the head down swagger of those confident that it would take more than a chance brush with a Covid-19 carrying stranger to become infected by it - and all those in between - it’s safe to say that moving from one place to another is going to look very different in this third decade of the new millennium. And for the foreseeable future at least.  

Add to that the lack of any physical contact - even some eye contact seems to have been tarnished with the brush of extreme caution - silent restaurants, well-spaced queues with no sniff of any barging, boarded up businesses that even furloughing couldn’t save and cinemas still advertising pre-Easter films, and it’s fair to say that without addressing the post-Covid-19 setting, the story could look oddly dated, even bizarre.

I was musing this when I came across a brilliant article in the Guardian where different authors give their views on how to deal with the Covid-19 In Fiction dilemma. They talk more of the plot itself and the challenges, for example, of the consequences of love at first sight, indeed a quickie down the side street, with masks and two metre distances in place. Hmmm. 

It’s a thought-provoking article and I certainly don’t have the answers.

But I do know I’m not ready, or willing, to jump into a covered faces, worried street of Covid-19 affected stories for my late-night reads. I tend to read fiction and although I do opt for gritty reality over fantasy, I also want to spend time in another world. In short, I won’t be opting to read a novel set in a pandemic any time soon, and the film of that name as far as I’m concerned, can safely be stored away until any grandchildren ask us what it was really like.

Does this mean that everything I read from here on in will need to be set in the past, or will writers decide their story can manage without this nod to reality? I mean, how interesting is a snapshot of a street full of people adhering to the rules? I don’t think there’s an awful lot you can do with a picture of people in masks, once it’s been duly noted for continuity purposes. It feels a bit like pointing out that the people walking down the road have skin on their faces, or need to open their mouths to eat. And yet not to embrace our current climate, would seem out of sorts, too - a whopping great elephant in the room.

Dear readers, writers, this question has me flummoxed!

How much reference to Covid-19 would you want, how much would you need, to be included in a story that took place post spring 2020? Is this something you’re currently addressing or even reading right now? Perhaps the wearing of masks and keeping of good social distance is already adding to the plot you’re writing or the story you’re reading. I’m really interested in your take on this. 

Please do share your thoughts!

Meanwhile, I hope this post reaches you all safe and well and managing to navigate the madness and sadness of the Covid-19 world.  

*Footnote! Interestingly, when I did my spellcheck, it didn’t recognise ‘Covid-19’ – I wonder how long it will take to get with the 2020 programme…?


  1. It's a minefield. My WIP is set now but stretching past 2020. I was hoping I'd be able to gloss over it, but the longer the repercussions last, I may not be able to. My employer isn't expecting things to be completely normal until after the new year - can we really ignore a whole year? I can see myself crossing the road to avoid someone for a long time to come :-(

    It's reassuring that no one completely has the answer and we're all stumbling around in the dark.

  2. Thanks so much for this, Annalisa. That is such a dilemma for you! And I’m also reassured that this isn’t something that blatantly obvious to everyone else. My whole premise revolves around four unrelated people and a driver in a taxi so that, right there, has to be firmly set in the past for pretty much any of it to work. But because it’s set just a few years ago (linked to weather!) and thus nonetheless such a contemporary story, I think I’m going to have to make it much clearer that it’s pre our new ‘normality’! How you work with stories going forward through these times... phew! Good luck!

  3. just had to agree that the thought of reading,FOR FUN (!), novels set in our current times is not appealing to me however, I did read that the netflix docuseries "pandemic" that just happened to be released as all this hit, is in the top 10 of all netflix offerings - are we the odd ones out then Jax?

  4. I know, that is so weird, can you imagine watching that now??? Not for me, that's for sure. Anyway, you will be pleased to know, that in my limited experience, there is not a great deal of love for the concept of novels set in a Covid-19 world, and certainly not for writing them. I'm sure there'll be around but I'm hearing more that people will relish the cosy nostalgia of a pre- (or, let's hope, post-) covid world. We can but hope! Thanks for commenting :)


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