There are always decisions to be made during the writing of a book. Usually these are straightforward and familiar – for example, should a character be killed off in Chapter Three, or can the tension be stretched out until, say, Chapter Eight?
There are also the perplexing questions of who can get together with whom, and whether to allow a ‘hand-in-hand into the sunset’ moment, or to write an emotional farewell scene with the hero going doughtily off to fight a war, or the heroine dedicating her life to nursing. Or, of course, the other way round. Also, you have to decide whether the villain should turn out to be the mild-mannered gentleman who deceived almost everyone in the book, (hopefully including the reader), or if it would be better to stay with the first idea of it being the kitten-faced girl who has been weaving a web of greedy intrigue since her original entrance.
What an author doesn’t expect is to be faced with decisions about a worldwide pandemic, and how much – or how little – of it needs to be incorporated into the plot. Suddenly you’re presented with questions about whether the current storyline will even stand up in a post-coronavirus world, (always assuming there ever is such a world), or whether you dare hope that by publication date things will have reached some semblance of normality, and readers will be grateful to read about a virus-free situation.
Even with a book already written and scheduled for publication, you suddenly find that while working on a few last-minute editorial suggestions you’ve included a conversation between two characters that wasn’t in the original ms. ‘My word,’ says one character to the other, during a plane trip essential to the plot, ‘My word, isn’t it nice to be able to travel to other countries again.’
You realize that touching on travel restrictions is starting up a whole new plot-line you don’t want and that will confuse the characters, let alone the reader, so you crossly delete the conversation. You also realize that nobody these days says, ‘My word’, and wonder if you’re subconsciously trying to travel backwards to a time when life was gentler.
It’s not only the writing that throws up imponderables, though. There are on-line meetings, which start off by being rather novel and even fun. You realise you don’t need to dress up for them – or, at least, you have to dress up the top half a bit, but nobody can see if you’re wearing your old tracksuit bottoms and bedroom slippers. Then you think you can set the scene beforehand, so that the others see you against an interesting background. After all, people interviewed on TV do that. So far, I have coveted the sitting room curtains of the Shadow Chancellor, wanted to know where the Swedish Deputy Prime Minister got the painting in her study, discovered that the editor of a prominent Sunday newspaper has the exact same sofa as mine, and tried to read the book titles on the shelves of several government ministers, which resulted in a bad case of cricked neck.
But with that in mind, you decide to reposition the computer in order to show your own bookshelves. You reason that this will look nicely scholarly, and will be much better than displaying a jumble of cushions on the sofa, which would merely confirm most people’s opinion that writers are untidy slobs.
However, it’s important to be wary about repositioning the computer, because you can end up with a blank and unresponsive monitor – which is what happened to me, and which is a truly alarming experience when halfway through writing a book. It was only after crawling around on the floor for an hour, convinced that Chapter Ten was lost for ever, and after untangling a wilderness of wires and dispossessing several indignant spiders of their homes, that I realised I had merely dislodged a connection behind the monitor. Chapter Ten is therefore safe, but any future zooming will continue to be conducted from the sofa corner, with a jumble of cushions.