The Coronavirus in Fiction Dilemma

by Jennifer Joyce

My new book is due for publication in October. It’s a festive time-travel romantic comedy, with the present-day set in the last couple of months of 2020. There wasn’t a murmur of Coronavirus when I was writing the first draft, and we hadn’t yet been hit with lockdown when I was editing the book, but now I’m faced with a dilemma: Coronavirus has happened and we don’t know when social distancing will end, but my characters are blithely hugging, sitting in the pub and shopping with friends in their version of November 2020. They’re having Sunday lunches with family, popping out to work and jumping on flights to attend their friend’s wedding. There is absolutely no mention of the pandemic that has left us isolated in our houses or at least two feet away from other human beings when we have to dash out for essentials. It could take months for these restrictions to be fully lifted, and I’m sure we’ll still be feeling the effects for a long time, so should this be reflected in my book?

Putting aside the headache-inducing task of re-editing the book to reflect the current situation, I’ve realised I’m happy for my characters to live in a world without ever having heard the term ‘Covid-19’ or experience the gut-wrenching anxiety as the daily death toll rises. They’re living in ignorant bliss and I envy them. In a world that I control, why would I choose to inflict the one we currently inhabit? Besides, I write romantic comedies. They’re escapism, with happy endings, and this one – being a time-travel rom com – isn’t rooted too heavily in reality.

So I’m going to leave the book as it is. My characters will continue to live in a world where they can hug their loved ones and get fall-over-drunk in the pub on a Friday night. They’ll gather for school musicals and they’ll celebrate their friend’s wedding with unadulterated joy. When they hear ‘Happy Birthday’ being sung, they won’t associate it with washing hands. It’ll simply mean cake, being shared with friends and family in the same room and not over Zoom (they don’t even know what Zoom is). To them, Corona is just a brand of beer or a Eurodance band from the 90s. Their supermarkets have never run of out toilet roll or pasta, and they’ve never had to queue up along the perimeter of the car park to get inside.

Who wouldn’t want to escape into the pages of that world, just for a little while?

One thought on “The Coronavirus in Fiction Dilemma

  1. Glad it’s not just me that has a dilemma over social distancing. I found I couldn’t write romance in the early days of lockdown because it felt wrong for people to be touching, never mind hugging or kissing! My only nod to Coronavirus so far has been a short story about dealing with an inherited toilet roll hoard.


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