A Writer's Reflection: Communication in a Time of Covid


A Writer’s Reflection: Communication in the Time of Covid

Tonight I’ll be giving my first author talk since Covid19 struck. Unsurprisingly, it will be online via Zoom to an audience of around 40 people, each in their own homes somewhere in the Portsmouth area. Doing it online will save me the hundred-mile round trip drive and yet I feel sad that I can’t be there in person to chat to them and – let’s be honest – sell a few copies of my books.

As the new year began, everything looked optimistic on the author events front for 2020. I had bookings for fifteen author talks to groups, plus invitations to three book clubs. Luckily for me the book club meetings were in January and February so those went ahead.

Two author friends and I, known as the Noir Collective, had developed a suspense author panel event and worked hard for months to prepare and refine our offering. We’d pitched to literary festivals and secured several 2020 bookings. At the time of writing our summer bookings have been cancelled and we’re waiting to hear whether the autumn events will go the same way.

We haven’t ventured into virtual literary festivals, as yet, though if social distancing continues, that might be an option as I’ve hungrily consumed creative content supplied through festivals and live streams.

Cancelled festivals aside, it’s occurred to me how uniquely lucky writers are to have such simple tools of the trade. We are able to continue working through this crisis. I don’t underestimate the challenges many authors face, from home schooling to financial insecurity, and from mental stress to health worries but, if our Internet fails, we still have our laptops and if (heaven forbid) the laptop crashes, we can turn to good old pen and paper.

Reflecting on our dependence on communications technology and how it’s allowed many businesses to continue working, took me back to a time – not quite of the dinosaurs – when I worked for a large UK company that had just taken over a division of a US company. It was the late 1980s and much of the takeover work had to be done face to face. Along with a massive transition team, I spent couple of months in Houston (with side trips to New Orleans and other fab places) and returned to Texas, off and on, over the next year.

Once we had integrated the US acquisition into the UK parent, we had to reduce the cost of transatlantic travel. Videoconferencing technology for business was in its infancy and owned by telecoms providers. So we used to troop along to a BT studio in central London, where the venue looked a bit like a TV studio, to hold meetings with the US team. The technology depended on joining up unstable satellite and subsea links. Often we’d sit for hours in the studio staring at a blank screen and a live image would pop up of engineers in Germany, desperately trying to establish a transatlantic UK/US connection.

Back then few of us had the power of technology in our own hands. As recently as the mid-1990s, when I was giving work presentations, I’d take a set of 35mm slides in a round plastic box called a carousel. In case the projector at the venue didn’t work (which often happened) I’d also take a set of transparent foils that worked on simpler technology, called an overhead projector (OHP). Strangest of all, if I needed to change content or add new slides, I went to the company’s drawing office where a draughtsperson would redesign and produce a new 35mm slide for me.

In these dystopian times, I’m grateful to stay in touch with writing groups, publishing contacts, friends and family by Zoom and I’m looking forward to giving my talk to the Portsmouth audience tonight. But most of all, I’m grateful for a writing life where I can escape lockdown and live with my characters in a made-up world where they face many challenges but Covid 19 doesn’t exist.

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Photo credit: Beggarwood Bookworms (reproduced with permission).

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