Guest Bloggers

A Type of Disconnect

It’s been a difficult thirteen months during shelter in place. From March 2020 to now (April 2021) many of us have felt a spectrum of emotions.

Alison Flood eloquently captures what many of us are experiencing:

After a month of lockdown, William Sutcliffe wrote on Twitter: “I have been a professional writer for more than twenty years. I have made my living from the resource of my imagination. Last night I had a dream about unloading the dishwasher.”

Whether it is dealing with home schooling, the same four walls, or anxiety caused by the news, for many authors, the stories just aren’t coming.

“Stultified is the word,” says Orange prize-winning novelist Linda Grant. “The problem with writing is it’s just another screen, and that’s all there is … I can’t connect with my imagination. I can’t connect with any creativity. My whole brain is tied up with processing, processing, processing what’s going on in the world.”

Grant describes waking up in a fog, and not wanting to do anything but watch rubbish TV. Her mind is not relaxed enough, she says, to connect with her subconscious. “My subconscious is just basically screaming: ‘Get us out of this,’” she says, so there’s no space to create fiction. “I don’t have the emotional and intellectual energy to give to these shadowy people to bring them out of the shadows.”

William Sutcliffe . . . has been trying to dream up his next book, and “that kind of work is really, really incompatible with lockdown and with this stage of pandemic fatigue.”

Others, such as writer Gillian McAllister, are most affected by the lack of serendipitous glimpses of other lives. “I think authors take so much inspiration from things like the clothes a stranger is wearing, the smell of their perfume, their body language, seeing a couple interact in a bar,” she says. “I’m having to mine my memories for this stuff, which is less authentic and lacks a kind of specific detail that I like to write about in ordinary times.”

Linda Grant has also felt “completely cut off from material. I felt I was forced into this interiority, when there was no exterior, no outside to engage with,” she reflects. “You don’t have those overheard conversations on buses, there’s no stimulus. It’s just a sort of sea of greyness, of timelessness.”

As Grant points out, this is “a once in a blue moon example of every writer being affected by exactly the same situation.”

So are we likely to be deluged, in a year’s time, with locked-room mysteries, or stream-of-consciousness novels about unloading the dishwasher? “It’s a massive problem for contemporary novelists, most of whose novels are set in a non-specific version of now,” says Sutcliffe. “You can write a novel set in 2013, 14, 15, but 2019, 20, 21, these are three completely different worlds.

Excerpted from “Writer’s blockdown: after a year inside, novelists are struggling to write” by Alison Flood, The Guardian, February 19, 2021

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