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Monday musings on Australian literature: Authors respond to COVID-19

March 30, 2020
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In last week’s Monday Musings I wrote more generally about COVID-19 and its impact on the Arts. Like that post, this one is not aiming to be a formal comprehensive one either; news and ideas are coming far too quickly. And, anyhow, as I also said last week, most if not all of you are well enough connected to be receiving news and notifications yourselves. You just need to be social-media-connected in some way to your favourite arts organisation, bookshops, publishers, and so on, to see a whole range of ideas and initiatives popping up to keep authors in our field of view.

To give just one example of what formal or organised culture is doing, the National Library of Australia held its first Digital Book Launch on 27 March, featuring our lovely local author Karen Viggers in conversation with Felicity Volk to launch Volk’s new book Desire lines.

The NLA is not, of course, the only organisation finding ways of keeping culture alive. From social media, I see that digital launches, in particular, using a variety of platforms, are quickly becoming popular.

However, what I want to do today is something a bit different, which is share three recent social media posts by individual authors, in which they respond – in their own way – to COVID-19. They are different authors at different stages in their lives and careers, so their response and/or needs are also different. Oh, and it’s coincidental that they are all women writers.

Sara Dowse has appeared in my blog several times, including a reference to her memoir piece about the time she spent as a child with Ava Gardner, which was included in The invisible thread anthology. Since 15 March, she has been daily posting on Facebook an excerpt from her unpublished memoir. She figures she’s never going to bring it to publication, so why not share it for people to read now, when so many of us are at home. Dowse is a thoughtful and intelligent writer, so having access to this is quite a treat for us, I’d say. At the end of the first except, the American-born Dowse introduces her memoir by pondering her complicated family background and falling in love with an Australian:

Was my infatuation an escape from this? It’s frightening to admit that it might have been so, just as it is to contemplate that escaping from difficult situations I hadn’t the sense not to get into in the first place was to become an indelible facet of my nature. An admirable capacity for survival, or a shameful weakness? Perhaps it’s the Hollywood influence that makes me think that you can shift the meaning of almost any story simply by changing the angle of the lens.”

Sulari Gentill, A fete right thinking men

Those who know me will know that I love this idea that you can shift the meaning of stories by changing the perspective.

Sulari Gentill, the historical crime fiction writer who lives in a rural area only a couple of hours from where I live, made me laugh with her homeschooling Instagram post. There was picture of her 14-year-old son reading her novel A few right thinking men. Her caption starts with:

Homeschooling … I’ve decided to cover English and History by making Atticus read my books. It may be the only time I have this power … And it means I can actually discuss both the literary and historical aspects of the novel with him sensibly, as well as be assured that his critiques will be robust (though perhaps a little blunt). It’s not exactly on the curriculum but we can deal with that later …

I loved this so much. You go Sulari! (I have written about a Canberra Writers Festival panel including Gentill, here.)

Debut crime author Karina Kilmore wrote (and tweeted) a blog post on the Sisters in Crime site. Her post is titled “Writing in the times of corona”. She talks about having her book tour and promotion activities cancelled. She talks of why she writes, which is to share her stories, but then ponders

But the reality for me as a writer has never seemed more stark. Those dystopian novels, those science fiction scenarios, those terrible crimes by people in desperate situations are no longer pure works of fiction. We have all seen the footage of people fighting each other in supermarkets, hoarders taking more than their fair share and people risking other peoples’ lives by not following the restrictions. This type of realistic crime makes writing my second novel harder.

She also says that while cancelling her book tour was the right decision, the impact is to “somehow” make her doubt herself. You can feel her uncertainty and pain.

(Kilmore’s book, Where the truth lies, is published by Simon and Schuster. It was shortlisted for the Unpublished Manuscript Award in the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.)

I hope you’ve enjoyed these little snippets.

Meanwhile, as I wrote last week, take care and be safe my blog friends.

Do you have any interesting author stories to share?

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Sara Dowse permalink
    March 31, 2020 8:39 am

    Thanks, WG. I realise that I started on March 15 – prompted by my recuperating granddaughter’s interest in the family story, and so it went. I took it out of the metaphorical drawer and thought, if Hannah, all of 22 years old, recovering from a difficult operation, is interested, maybe others would be too. Apparently it’s so. And it’s been fun for me as well. But it isn’t only fun. The working title I had once was ‘Light and Shade’ with reference to Hollywood, but actually, I realise now, to life.

    • March 31, 2020 9:44 am

      Thanks for explaining your reasons Sara. I hoped you would. “Light and shade” is a great title – and one that can have multiple meanings really can’t it, because it can also just refer to any person’s life, to life in general, and as you say to Hollywood and filmmaking.

  2. March 31, 2020 8:59 am

    I think it’s very difficult for authors to ‘get any air’ at the moment. Everyone is so focused on staying informed and sorting through the deluge of information is really hard, not to mention time-consuming. I’ve done two virtual launches for authors on my blog and the response has been one comment from one reader and just 80 views, and two comments on the other with 130 views… I don’t know if there’s been any impact on sales at all.
    Well, ok, that’s not representative of all the coverage my blog posts get… (it doesn’t include all my email subscribers for a start) but compared to 400+ for 10 Bookish Things to Do While Self-Isolated At Home, it’s not good and not at all consistent with my usual stats.

    OTOH we all had an email from Readings yesterday about their shutdown, but tucked away with the news that they’re still taking online orders was the news that “supply of overseas items has mostly stopped, and [they] can only supply items that are available in our shops or in stock with local publishers”. So this an opportunity for Australian authors who are locally published, and I think the most useful thing I can do is to do what I’ve always done: read their books and talk about them, f2f and through my blog. Unless you’re Hilary Mantel, word-of-mouth has always been the most powerful publicity strategy. Research has shown time and again that at the end of the day what makes people buy a book is a recommendation from a friend. ‘You must read this!’ they say, and we hit the bookstore!! And that is why book blogs work, because the blogger becomes a trusted virtual friend.
    I’m hoping for the authors I love that it’s still the case, and that when things settle, as they must, that their books get the attention they deserve:)

    • March 31, 2020 12:54 pm

      Well said Lisa. And, yes, looks like a good opportunity for local authors to get the heads more above water with less overseas competition. (Hope most of the books are printed in Australia? Are they? I suspect not all.

      As for stats mine are all over the place. People just aren’t reading as much I think, but if this goes on for weeks and months as is likely we’ll all settle into it.

      • March 31, 2020 5:56 pm

        Well, the ones who print overseas may find they have supply problems. I just took a quick look at some I’ve got for review: Giramondo, Transit Lounge and Brandl and Schlesinger print in Australia; so do A&U and Hybrid. There may be others, I mainly deal with indie publishers…

  3. March 31, 2020 9:48 am

    Novelist Kirsten Krauth, whose stunning second novel Almost a Mirror is released next month, has set up a Facebook group called Writers Go Forth. Launch. Party. for writers with 2019 and 2020 releases. In addition to organising virtual launches, members of the group invite writers to blog tours and pledge to buy Australian novels. It’s a terrific initiative and very generous on Kirsten’s part.

    Meanwhile, at Writers Victoria, we’re also supporting virtual launches and working to keep writers connected (and our organisation afloat). These certainly are unchartered waters.

    • March 31, 2020 12:56 pm

      Thanks very much Angela. I appreciate your sharing that here. Good on Kirsten. I was glad to see last year that she had another book coming out.

  4. March 31, 2020 11:55 am

    These are indeed different times. The social isolation, which covers the entire world is mixing with social media which also covers most of the world. Unique combinations are popping up. Authors are a big part of this. Hopefully the bad aspects of all this pass quickly.

    Stay safe and healthy.

    • March 31, 2020 12:56 pm

      That’s a good way of putting it, Brian, “unique combinations”.

      And, backatcha! you stay safe and healthy too.

  5. March 31, 2020 5:27 pm

    I saw you back and forthing on Facebook but I’m afraid I haven’t chased up Light & Shade yet. Everyone (under a certain age) of course is concerned in these times about income, I know I am and I’m “essential”. You have to feel for authors who were on the cusp of a book launch, speaking engagements, writers festivals – years of work is put at risk. Maybe it’s time for the AWWC Facebook page to accept/curate promotions for new releases.

    • March 31, 2020 6:31 pm

      Yes good point about AWWC Bill … that would be a big change of policy for that page, but we could change that or create a special page. Personally, I can’t take on one more thing so will see what Theresa thinks.

  6. Jennifer Avery permalink
    April 3, 2020 12:47 pm

    Thank you for publishing Felicity Volk’s online NLA interview with Karen Viggers 🙂

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