Writing in the Time of Covid

I tend to shy away from making sweeping statements. However, I think I have one that everyone will agree with: The pandemic changed everybody’s life.

Among other things, the pandemic made me rethink what I write. I started looking at a bigger picture. Re detective fiction, I’m working on a new series. The novel I finished during the pandemic doesn’t fit into it. It takes time to scope out a series and to get the pieces – the individual novels – right.

The new series is plugged into the current zeitgeist. Through the guise of fiction, the series will tackle topics like societal greed – without sacrificing the core of detective stories: the whodunit. As for timing, I’m not sure when the first novel will come out. As is its wont, the pandemic “retimed” everything. I’m aiming for next year, but whatever will be will be. Que será, será. I’m on pandemic time.

Naslund’s Swimming Hole, the Bruce Peninsula

Naslund’s Swimming Hole, the Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, Canada.

Autumnal Equinox, 2021. The water temperature is not bad, but it’s trending toward winter. Time to get the wetsuit out. 😉

Reading in the Time of Covid

Recent consumer studies show that book purchases increased during the pandemic and that the Crime/Mystery genre registered the most purchases, more even than Romance.

On my side, since Covid-19 began clobbering the planet in early 2020, I haven’t been reading much mystery/detective fiction. I’ve been digging into non-fiction, mostly history and science. With a death pall on the land, grisly murders didn’t grab me. As for writing detective fiction, more on that in a future post.

Now that Covid-19 is a smaller scourge — in my locale, that is — I’m back to reading mystery/detective novels. Although whodunits revolve around murder, most aren’t hung up on death. The plots explore everything under the sun. They portray all aspects of humanity, from the positive to the negative. They are good and evil incarnate.

So, I’m back at it, checking out the “deadly” genre. I wonder how it will reflect the new zeitgeist. What’s going on out there? Uncertainty and innovation, to name a few things. And murder, of course. It would take more than a pandemic to rid the planet of murder, not to mention murder mysteries and romances. Read on, dear reader, whatever your favourite genres.

Brief Answers from Detective Stephen Hawking

I’ve been reading a lot of Stephen Hawking recently – in some ways, the complete opposite of reading detective fiction. Then again, Hawking was a detective of sorts – searching for answers to mind-boggling questions from physics and cosmology.

My favourite Hawking book is his last one, Brief Answers to the Big Questions (from 2018, the year he died). It’s a pocket-size compendium that summarizes his work by addressing ten big questions – e.g., “How did it all begin?” – mysteries beyond the purview of even Sherlock Holmes.

Hawking didn’t believe in creation myths; on the other hand, he admitted science doesn’t know exactly how the universe started. He writes clearly, which doesn’t mean reading him is always easy. When he gets deep into black holes or singularities, your brain can go into its own black hole. Fortunately, he soon brings you back to earth – to good-old 4-dimensional spacetime.

Hawking was one of the greatest scientific minds of the last 100 years. He stood on the shoulders of Einstein, Newton, Galileo, and Aristotle. Like Aristotle, he was also a philosopher. To me, that is Hawking’s true genius. Through science, he tried to understand humanity.

A Hawking quote:

“I have led an extraordinary life on this planet, while at the same time travelling across the universe by using my mind and the laws of physics …. On Earth, I have experienced highs and lows, turbulence and peace, success and suffering. I have been rich and poor. I have been able-bodied and disabled …. But it would be an empty universe indeed if it were not for the people I love, and who love me.”

John le Carré, King of the Spy Thriller

In memory of John le Carré (the penname of David Cornwell), who died in December 2020, I’ve been revisiting his novels. Many spy thriller heroes are almost superhuman. Le Carré’s heroes are flawed humans who rely on endurance and ingenuity.

My favourite le Carré novels are The Tailor of Panama (1996), The Constant Gardener (2001), and Our Kind of Traitor (2010). PS: All three were made into movies.

The Tailor of Panama. The protagonist, Harry Pendel, a transplanted Londoner, is a wonderfully humane creation. Once a convict in England, he is now a tailor in Panama City – and bumbling spy. As Panama crumbles around him, he learns the values of family and integrity.

The Constant Gardener. The novel opens in Kenya: “The news hit the British High Commission in Nairobi at 9:30 on a Monday morning. Sandy Woodrow took it like a bullet, jaw rigid, chest out, smack through his divided English heart.” From there, the story spans the globe. Le Carré exposes not only the divided heart of England, but of the West as a whole.

Our Kind of Traitor. The plot turns on the open-heartedness of a young British academic, Perry Makepiece. However, the true star of the novel is Dima Krasnov, a Russian money launderer who wants to defect to England. Dima is brilliantly rendered. Part-bully, part-romantic, part-egalitarian, he drives the story to its inevitable end.