Sunday, May 31, 2020

How Are We Going to Write About This?

As we speak, I am in the midst of a Blog Tour for the publication of my new book, the second in the Lakes Crime Thriller trilogy, BONES IN THE RIVER. I should have been talking about the book at Newcastle Noir and CrimeFest as well.

Current circumstances—UK lockdown for Covid-19 coronavirus—have put paid to any physical festivals or conventions. So, everything has moved online, with panels and interviews and readings. I took part in the recent Virtual Noir At The Bar (Episode 5 on April 29, from about 44:00min to 51:00min) instead of actually meeting up, in an actual bar, to do actual readings from our works.

As well as keeping on top of the Blog Tour, I’m also deeply into the planning of the next two books. And that’s where I run into the biggest questions of all.

How are we going to write about the events of 2020 in the future?

If I look at BONES IN THE RIVER, for instance, the events of the story occur at the annual Appleby Horse Fair, held in the Cumbrian market town for hundreds of years and famous as being the largest gathering of Gypsies and Travellers in Europe.

 This year it has been cancelled.

The opening scene, in which a man accidentally runs down and kills a child on a deserted country road at night, could still happen in lockdown—but not after he’d just spent an evening having a meal with friends where they were undoubtedly all sitting around a dinner table—inside—in close proximity.

My CSI, Grace McColl, goes from crime scene to office and out into the field again, mixing with both the public and her colleagues. My detective, Nick Weston, goes to interview suspects and potential witnesses in person rather than by phone or Zoom, because how can you really get a feel for the reactions of the people you’re talking to unless you can see them while you talk.

People are brought in for questioning—their legal representatives sitting alongside them. What will happen in future? Zoom again, or will this cause a major leap forwards in projection hologram technology?

Grace visits her mother, Eleanor, who has moved back from the south coast up to Appleby. Grace’s ex-husband, Max, has been making himself useful around Eleanor’s new house and garden, perhaps as a way of trying to reinsert himself into Grace’s life. Even with the slight easing of lockdown due to take place in the UK from June 1, this is dubious behaviour. They have a barbecue—which as it’s outside would probably be allowed. But Nick also attends and he doesn’t count as family. Not sure he and Grace stay the full six feet apart at all times there, either…

Besides, Nick’s a father with a young daughter, Sophie. Would he risk her health by associating with others more than he absolutely had to for his job? And what about Nick’s partner, Lisa, who has been working suspiciously late at a hair and beauty salon that wouldn’t be open for business yet anyway.

Meanwhile, one of the other CSIs is suspended for a supposed error. He’s staying at home in his scruffs, watching the TV and playing video games—perfectly feasible in these lockdown times! But then he gets a visit from one of his colleagues and, instead of insisting the man stays on the doorstep so they can chat (no garden available in a little terraced house in Workington) he invites the man inside his home—without hand sanitiser, gloves or face mask.

The Travelling community at the Fair live in close proximity inside their vardo and bow-top horse-drawn caravans, and spend their time largely out of doors, but at the Fair they all mix and mingle with no thought to cross-contamination. There’s plenty of washing goes on, but it’s mostly of horses in the River Eden, as fits with tradition rather than to prevent the spread of Covid-19 infection.

And at the stand-off near the end of the book, the police are more concerned with the numbers involved than the risks of getting too close to the saliva of others.

If I’d been writing this book next year, and setting it this year, it might have been a very different story altogether.

So, what do I do about the third instalment? Do I mentally set the story pre-winter 2019, when Corona was still just a beer, and a virus was something more likely to be contracted by your computer than by your elderly relatives?

After all, I didn’t specify that BONES IN THE RIVER was set in any particularly year. It’s contemporary but not tied to any specific, non-transferrable event—the millennium, for instance.

But, in a few years’ time, the obvious setting of a book pre- or post-Covid-19 will undoubtedly date it. I went through my very first book recently, KILLER INSTINCT and UN-dated it. I didn’t change the story but I did take out references to minor things that I felt dated it badly. References to computer floppy disks, video cassette tapes—even public phone boxes, most of which have either disappeared from our streets or been turned into tiny libraries or stations for community defibrillators.

The next book I have planned is a bit more of an experiment, and therefore could be set at any time in the last few years. I don’t intend to make reference to Covid-19 in that story. It still feels too soon. Too raw.

This will give me time to see what’s going to change in societal behaviours in the slightly longer term before I start the next Charlie Fox book. If Charlie’s greatest threat to someone in the future is that if they don’t stop what they’re doing, she’ll cough on them, it’s going to change things in a big way…

What are your feelings, both as writers and readers about the inclusion of Covid-19 in books written right now, to be read in the next year or eighteen months? Do you want them to reflect these strange times in full and horrible detail, or do you read as more of an escape of what’s going on around you, and therefore not want to be reminded?

And will pre-2020 become seen as the new Golden Age—both of crime and of life?

This week’s Word of the Week is petrichor, meaning the smell of rain on dry earth. It comes from the Greek petra, which means stone and ichor, which means the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology. My thanks to EvKa for sending me this among a whole list of wonderful words. A gift to treasure for a logophile like me!

BONES IN THE RIVER, book No2 in the Lakes crime thriller trilogy, was published worldwide on May 26 2020by ZACE Ltd. You can grab a sneak peek at the first three chapters, and buy here from all the usual retailers.

eBook: 978-1-909344-69-3
Mass-market paperback: 978-1-909344-70-9
Hardcover: 978-1-909344-71-6
Hardcover Large Print: 978-1-909344-72-3

Driving on a country road late at night,
you hit a child.
There are no witnesses.
You have everythingto lose.
What do you do?

The traditional Appleby Horse Fair hosts the largest gathering of Gypsies and Travellers in Europe.

The sudden influx of more than 40,000 visitors into the small Lakeland town has always caused its share of problems, with strained relations between off-comers and locals.

But it’s also known as a good time to settle old scores.

This year, the Fair brings with it with the discovery of two bodies near the River Eden—one very recent and another a long time buried.

As CSI Grace McColl and Detective Nick Weston search for answers, old secrets are revealed, old wounds are reopened, and tensions threaten to erupt into violence.

While someone much closer to home is trying to get away with murder…

The follow-up to DANCING ON THE GRAVE, the first of the Lakes crime thriller series, BONES IN THE RIVER is a self-contained story featuring:
CSI Grace McColl. She is forty, amicably divorced from her husband, Max. Born in the Lakes, she was always a keen photographer, who trained as a crime scene investigator after her photographs were used to help acquit a man who later caused a woman’s death. Grace still feels she has much to make amends for. She hides her emotions behind a calm façade that can make her sometimes appear cold. She lives in Orton village, with a Weimaraner dog called Tallie.

Detective Constable Nick Weston. He is thirty-two, living with his partner, Lisa, a hairdresser, with whom he has a volatile relationship, and a young daughter, Sophie. Nick worked in Firearms in Manchester and then undercover for the Met in London. After he was compromised and almost beaten to death on an undercover op, Lisa persuaded him to transfer up to her native Cumbria, where he is considered an outsider among his colleagues. Nick is still coping with some of the mental and physical after-effects of his experiences.


  1. The novels written in Victorian England, taking that as the setting and social norm, are still enjoyable. One COULD write the third book, set in that mythical time before the advent of haphephobia, and let the trilogy exist in that longed-for past. Or, one could take the sudden shift in social behavior as a lever-point in the climax of the trilogy, firmly fixing the books in time. The choices facing a creative individual, clearly, are what draw the moth to the flame...

    1. hi EvKa, and thank you again for that lovely list of words from Tim Hallinan.

      i think we're looking at a general mysophobia rather than specific haphephobia, but that could just be me!

      besides, if the reaction to the third instalment of the trilogy is as good as it's been for the first two (so far, at least...) then there may be another trilogy on the way with Grace & Nick. the choice of when to set that will be an interesting one...

  2. Congrats on the new books, Zoe. And thanks for the good laugh. You made a very serious, unpleasant subject amusing, and we all needed that!
    We have embarked on a trilogy with the young Kubu set about twenty years ago. Phew! Talk about luck! The first one, Facets of Death, came out in January.

  3. I think it's going to be a very long time before we can fully see the long term effects of Covid19. I'd be tempted to avoid the subject - everyone's fed up with all the restrictions as it is, even if they understand and obey them - until the long term picture becomes clear. If there are changes to police procedures, for instance, time enough to incorporate them in later books, at which point it will be the new normal and people would be puzzled if you DIDN'T write about it.

    1. this is true, Lesley. i'm tempted to ignore it for the book that's currently on the drawing board, and think again for the one after but not to make too much of it. after all, you wouldn't make a big thing in a book now about the fact you can't smoke in pubs anymore unless it was a particular comment on or by the character involved.

  4. I agree with Lesley. The current climate is so depressing, I don’t want to read about it in fiction which has thankfully provided many readers with escapism.

    1. there is also the point that we don't have our private eyes spending 99% of their time following erring spouses or investigating fake insurance claims, just as we don't have our cops doing endless paperwork, rotas and reports. if he could only include murders in books at the rate they actually occur IRL, then most series would be very slow going indeed...

  5. I'm very interested in seeng what happens. The virus is such a huge event that it can't be ignored. I suspect many books incorporating it in some way will focus on the many obvious angles. It's the unusual or unlikely ones that will be of real interest.

    1. if, as is predicted, Covid-19 is here to stay in one form or another, then behaviours will have to change and those changed behaviours will, undoubtedly, have to be taken into account in the way we write our books.

  6. CONGRATULATIONS. Not only have you kicked off a great book in the midst of a pandemic, but brought Roma into the program at a time when racial discord is literally setting the world on fire. I just finished a stand-alone that I'm not looking at again for another week, and when I do will see if Covid must play a part. As for the next Kaldis novel, I'm not sure how to play it yet. There's a new one coming in January that will work fine as it is, but the next one....arrrrggghhhh. Perhaps I'll take the easy way out and play it as the police actually live it. Stay safe.

    1. thanks, Jeff. it was a very line to walk, between not either romanticising or demonising the Romany people. only my readers will tell me if i've got that bit right!

      and yes, next book i'm planning as is, and will take stock again after that. can't wait to see what you've been planning with the standalone!

  7. I set a goal for myself to actually start writing the book this year - the book being a take off from the blog that has often introduced readers to the life of boomer American expats in Greece. Readers have asked for it and I've decided to do it -- I wanted five years of this life under my belt before I started writing. Our five years mark was last December. . .and then came COVID19. So we have Frances Mayes amid sun and sunflowers of Tuscany and Peter Mayle sipping wine in Provence and me, wearing a mask and gloves at the Greek village grocery store during a pandemic. . .I am rethinking how to write anything at this point! Good luck, I will be eager to read how you do handle future writings.

    1. hi Jackie and Joel. yes, you have picked an interesting moment to jump readers into your book! still, if it came to writing about lockdown in a tower block in a city, or in a Greek village, i know which one I'd choose!

    2. That's terrific News, J&J, if anyone is is perfect for creating such a work it's YOU! Greece is lucky to have you.

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