Writing conversation during a pandemic…

‘Make your conversation real’, is one piece of general advice when you’re writing a book. ‘Don’t use conversation to dump information’ is another, and that one’s easy enough. Don’t write things like: ‘Do you remember how we visited your ninety-year-old but very robust grandmother yesterday, in the gorgeous new villa in Kent she bought last July for over a million pounds?’ asked Jemima.
There are better ways of letting the reader know the relevant details about Grandma.

But – ‘real’ conversation?? When I consider some of the conversations I’ve had with my family and friends over the past year and a half, I don’t even know what ‘real’ is any more. Even the everyday stuff has taken on a surreal hue, and more puzzling, what is ‘real’ today might not be ‘real’ tomorrow…

A few examples:

Son 2, on his way to the station (and probably late): ‘Can I have one of your face masks? Where are the face masks?’
(The new reality is that you read that and knew why he needed a face mask to go to the station.)

Me, on a rare occasion when both my children were visiting at the same time: ‘Why is the hand sanitiser on the hall floor?’ (You don’t need to know the answer. Welcome to today’s world.)

Son 1, on arriving for a visit, flapping his arms while speaking: ‘Socially-distanced hug!’
The answer to this is always: (flapping arms) ‘Socially distanced hug right back and did you do a lateral flow test before you came?’
(He comes into contact with a large number of people at work. In a week or two, though, we’ll both be double-jabbed, so this is – thankfully – another piece of changing reality.)

Friend: ‘It’s lovely weather, let’s go out for lunch.’
Me: ‘To a restaurant?!?’
Friend: ‘Of course not, what do you think!!?’
(This one changes as restrictions ebb and flow. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what’s open and what’s not – and what’s safe and what’s not is a different reality to different people, too.)

Friend, eating an ice cream on a socially-distanced walk: ‘This is lovely, but you won’t want to try some.’
(Well, no, I wouldn’t, not these days. Not yet.)

What’s happening in real life makes me glad to be a writer. For a few hours every day, I can ignore this parallel universe we’ve landed in, and go back to the good old days when we didn’t have to worry about friends and relatives catching Covid, when social distancing didn’t exist and hand sanitiser on your hallway table wasn’t a thing. Maybe that’s why I’m writing feel-good fiction for now, and not psych. suspense. Maybe one day, enough time will have passed to allow us to look back objectively and make sense of it all – though not everyone has enough years left to do that. And no, you won’t be reading about this pandemic in any of my books. Fiction is definitely better than fact at the moment.

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