You probably know Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as one of the greatest novels of all time, but did you know it was written during a pandemic?
The eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815 caused the quaint-sounding “Year Without a Summer” in 1816, which in reality meant rampant crop failures, famine, and horrific cholera and typhus outbreaks.
Mary Shelley and her future husband Percy Shelley traveled to Lake Geneva to meet up with Lord Byron and John William Polidori, they decided to write ghost stories to entertain themselves, and thus Frankenstein was born.
The first few months of 2020 are feeling particularly apocalyptic, and I’m curious to hear what’s on your mind.
First, obviously, I hope you and your loved ones will be spared the effects of the novel coronavirus and please everyone take all necessary precautions and stay safe.
Let’s also recognize even the idea of writing as the luxury that it is.
But amid the turmoil, during this time of self-quarantines and social distancing are you planning to plow forward with your writing? Is it full speed ahead or are you going to take a minute and focus on other things?
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Art: Wreckers Coast of Northumberland by Joseph Mallord William Turner
Man, I used to be so into the whole Shelley and Byron and haunted summer thing. What a perfect and romantic idea for an arty teen girl. (And then I read Seymour, an Introduction and that whole bit on Shelley made me feel so foolish).
Anyway, I promised my husband we’d play board games if we ever get quarantined (the ones with a million rules), but otherwise I’m going to continue working on the beast. I like to call my WIP “the beast”.
These times are so weird.
Maybe I’ll finally get my WIP done! But may also get back to journalling again. I’m well stocked with tea, so I’m good.
Magdalena Munro says
I’m having a tough time writing at the moment but am re-reading The Bone Clocks and Slade House by the wonderful David Mitchell. These books are clever enough to keep my mind off of the madness.
David Kubicek says
I’m writing a young adult dystopian novel set 200 years after a plague has killed 90% of the Earth’s population. I was working on it long before the anyone had ever heard of the Corona Virus. Once COVID-19 got going, my first thought was: “I hope we can survive this.” My second thought was: “Crap. When this book is published, readers are going to think it was inspired by the Corona Virus.” It wasn’t. I swear.
Marilynn Byerly says
Molly McKew at “Thrill Writing” has a nice piece on using a pandemic like this when writing your novel.
Thanks, Nathan, for your well-wishes and thoughtful advice. They are appreciated in these strange times we live in,.
I just woke up 30 mins ago, and after seeing Nathan’s comments, I wondered if the virus had been declared a pandemic over night. After Googling, I discovered that two hours ago, the WHO has, indeed, declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.
As far as writing goes, I’ll still be working on the same epic–that is, if I have time when my BAS is overdue.
I’m sorry for being fixated on toilet paper, but I can’t quite get my mind around this effect of the virus over here–for a number of reasons. Even after a week of no toilet paper or tissues being on supermarket shelves anywhere, even with a one-pack limit, even with manufacturers saying in the press, ‘Don’t worry, Australia. We’re working 24 hours a day to make sure no one runs out,’ even with supermarket managers assuring customers that deliveries have been increased to daily, and even with trucks the sized of houses pulling up out the back of local supermarkets, as of yesterday every supermarket shelf in my area remains empty of these basics. Oh, and hand sanitizers have also joined the list of absentees.
During the first and second world wars there was Government enforced rationing of just about everything, but I never dreamed self-rationing would still be going on in this country a week, or more, later. As far as I can remember, it has never happened in my life-time. And why toilet paper and tissues? For me, these are the last things I’d worry about. I suppose that because a few people went overboard and decided to hoard up these items, and people started to find shelves empty, then everyone began to panic they would be left with no supplies for their families.
If I was writing an apocalyptic novel, I’d never have thought of including the above details. The well-known maxim that life is stranger than fiction has been proven once again.
Nancy S. Thompson says
Yes, I finally have time to write again! My agent will be very happy!
JOHN T. SHEA says
More than one commentator has suggested we’re living in the Prologue to a Dystopia! Tambora was indeed a cataclysmic disaster, many times bigger than the Krakatoa eruption just to the west seventy years later. I researched both and more for one of my current WIPs, which is about a volcano destroying a near-future Libertarian city-state. There’s also a mass-suicide cult and genetically-engineered monsters. Maybe I should add a pandemic or two.
Jackie Ley says
I’m on longterm immunosuppressant medication, so am having to take extra care over social contact. This feels frustrating but it means I have more free time to escape into my novel wip and inhabit a whole different world. I also have more time to read. What’s not to like?
SANDRA GULLAND says
As a historical novelist, currently digging around in Elizabethan England, an era that saw wave after wave of Black Plague, the novel coronavirus is bringing the overwhelming nature of a pandemic to life in uncomfortable 3-D. I recently read an article in Slate on the intensely personal relationship Shakespeare had with the Plague. https://slate.com/culture/2020/03/shakespeare-plague-influence-hot-hand-ben-cohen.html