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Pandeminomicon: musings from Stuart MacBride

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The thing about being a writer, is that I spend most of my time at home. I’ve been in voluntary lockdown since about 2005, antisocially distancing, squirrelled away in my own little world, making up lies about people who don’t exist.

Well, it pays the bills.

You’d think that things wouldn’t have changed all that much for writers. Yes, we can’t get out to do events at festivals and libraries and bookshops anymore, but we’re mostly homebodies anyway, so what is there to whinge about? This is just business-as-usual. Only it really hasn’t been.

I think as a lot of people experience ‘working from home’ they’ve found it’s not quite the happy-go-la-la activity it might appear to be from the outside. And it’s been made a thousand times worse by having to negotiate a pandemic at the same time. Here you go: educate your kids, deal with all your domestic worries, be stuck inside all day with your partner, do a full day’s work, oh and while you’re at it: try to avoid bringing home a potentially deadly disease to your loved ones. It’s no wonder there’s been a huge uptick in stress-related conditions across the globe.

Then there’s the question of what we do with all this…

For years I’ve been saying that crime writers reflect the fears of society. That’s why 1970s crime fiction is so different to 2000s, or 2010. It holds up a mirror to our collective psyche and asks, ‘What are you afraid of?’

Only, what do you do when society is, quite rightly, really sodding concerned about a virus that’s officially killed four million of us (though estimates say the real total is probably more than twelve million)?

I did what any sensible writer would: I asked my wife, Fiona.

Should I set the next book in these horrible Plaguetimes, with everyone in facemasks, social distancing, most of the businesses shut, people stuck at home, constantly washing their hands, while the media brings us news of more bodies than even the most horrific serial killer could dream of?

And she said, ‘No.’

Fiona’s opinion on this one was, we’re all living through it, no one wants to read about it. What we need is something to lift us out of our current predicament. Something fun. Something that would make people laugh.

So I sat down and wrote what I hoped would do that – ending up with two short novels and a pair of complementary novellas that didn’t mention Covid-19 once. They were unashamedly a little bit silly, while still being a tad on the grisly side, featuring Detective Sergeant Roberta Steel and her somewhat odd sidekick, Tufty. The kind of stories that took a lopsided swipe at Dracula, Scooby-Doo, Agatha Christie, and The Ladykillers. Not all at the same time, though, that would be too silly even for me.

I really like them, and hope that one day I’ll get to share them with everyone.

But, in the meantime, I had to get on with the day job and produce a proper full-length police thriller. One that didn’t include haunted funfairs, mummies, or anatomically impossible taxidermy. And still the question remained: what the hell was I going to do about the pandemic?

So, in my world, I’ve decided to set the book (I’d tell you what the title is, but by the time it gets out into the wild, it’ll be called something else) in the near future, when all this crap is behind us and we can all get on with our lives. No more lockdowns, no more not getting to meet friends, no more not getting to hug loved ones, no more disinfecting everything that comes home from the supermarket…

There’s still an element of ‘crime fiction as a mirror’ about it, but a lot of ‘crime fiction as an escape’ too. Maybe not quite as much of an escape as Tufty the Vampire Slayer, or The Horrible Haunting of Tartan Haggis MacFunland, but an escape nonetheless.

Let’s face it, after these last few years, we all deserve one.

Photo of crime thriller author Stuart MacBride
Photo of crime thriller author Stuart MacBride
Stuart MacBride

Stuart MacBride is the Sunday Times No.1 bestselling author of the Logan McRae and Ash Henderson novels. He’s also published standalones, novellas, and short stories, as well as a children’s picture book.

Stuart lives in the northeast of Scotland with his wife Fiona, cats Gherkin, Onion, and Beetroot, some hens, horses, and a vast collection of assorted weeds.

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