Written by Welcome to Bellevue author Seth Robinson
I’ve day dreamed about being a full-time writer and working from home for as long as I can remember. Now, working from home is no longer a dream: in fact, for most of the world it’s something we’ve leapt into with a steep learning curve on Zoom, some time spent on Google to find out just what that can claim in terms of tax back come July, and unfortunately, for many, lost income.
I’ve been lucky in that my day job is continuing within this “new normal”. But my day dream of working from home always had more to do with my creative work. I imagined myself in an airy studio with bay windows, sipping coffee as I worked on novels and short stories … maybe a screen play. The reality has proved more surreal. My first novel, Welcome to Bellevue, was about a young writer transported to an eerie seaside hamlet. He’s a man suddenly out of place, and not quite sure what to do with himself. It’s a feeling I can relate to now, as I’m sure many people can. Even if that strange place is your own home.
I’ve been working on my second novel since January, and while up until this month that first draft was flowing along nicely, the words slowed with the arrival of COVID-19. They’re still coming, but in dribs and drabs. At first, it felt like I was wasting the opportunities that came with enforced home time, but then the internet stepped in, and it turns out there are a lot of people who feel the same. Creatives the world over are struggling with just how big and scary all of this is. Articles appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times and the Guardian saying as much, and of course, there’s always Twitter.
For the first time I can ever remember, it seemed as though all the forces of the internet had come together and actually agreed on something. It was weird, but I liked it, and it gave me permission to take a step back and think about the other ways I could fill my socially distanced time. My jumping off point was the decision to order a Nintendo Switch, only to go online and discover that there was a global shortage, and that they’d sold out across Australia. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one looking for some digital fun, so I went for some slightly more analogue (if digitally assisted) activities. With that in mind, I’ve carved out a list of books I’ve come to appreciate over the last month.
The Riftwar Saga – Raymond E. Feist
An epic saga that follows the journey of an orphan named Pug as he becomes the most powerful magician in all the land, and saves several worlds from an ominous ever looming evil known as “The Enemy”.
The fantasy genre is something I have a hit and miss relationship with. I love and admire the imagination that goes into these narratives, and the sheer ambition of writers who can produce a thousand-page novel that enchants their readers. That said, those same thousand-page tomes tend to scare me a little bit. I find the prospect of that reading daunting. For that reason, I love audiobooks. I’ve digested dozens of novels I’d never have otherwise picked up in this way, as was the case with The Riftwar Saga.
I wanted to revisit the fantasy genre after we decided that was the best label for Welcome to Bellevue when we submitted it for the Aurealis Awards. I had heard Magician (the first in the series) was one of the fantasy greats, so decided it was finally time to dive in. I went on to plough through both volumes, it’s sequel, and am now nearing the end of A Darkness at Sethanon, the final book in the saga (I also enjoy that my name features in its title).
There’s something truly heart-warming about the characters in this story. They band together and support each other through adversity. They celebrate each other’s victories, and develop incredibly positive friendships along the way. The betrayal quotient is exceptionally low. In many ways, it’s like the opposite of Game of Thrones. I’m genuinely holding out for a happily ever after, and in a way, I feel like I’ll find it really satisfying when it comes. It’s a fitting read for the current era, and there may be just enough story there to carry a new reader through the next six months.
The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman
Following the murder of his parents at the hands of the sinister “man Jack”, Nobody Owens is taken in, and raised, by the inhabitants of a graveyard.
One of my last real outings into the world before we went into lock down, was an expedition to see Neil Gaiman speak at the Capitol. When I was there, I picked up a signed copy of The Graveyard Book, a read I’ve found utterly delightful. It features all the ghoulies and ghosties, and dark, murderous plotlines that I’d expect from one of his adult novels, yet executed in a way both adults and children can enjoy. It’s unique story, rare it’s imagination, and yet, it reminds me of the fairy tales my parent’s read me as a child, with each chapter almost a stand-alone story, snippets from Bod’s life that weave together to make a book.
Next in my pile: The Animals in That Country – Laura Jean McKay
A strange flu sweeps across the world, giving people the ability to hear animals speak.
Laura came and spoke to us at a creative writing workshop in 2017. I remember her showing us marked-up pages from her manuscript that were more red than black. She spoke about the iterations it had gone through, how many drafts and redrafts there had been. It made me appreciate how much patience goes into the craft of writing, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting that book ever since.
I’ve been steering clear of books about zombies and pandemics and the world ending as all this unfolds, yet a flu that makes it so we can hear animals has tickled my fancy. I can only speculate as to what that book will hold, but I’m eager to find out.
Finally – A pup named Swayze
An eight-week-old Cavoodle puppy named Swayze, whose chief interests include pottery, dirty dancing, surfing, biting, and sleeping, with the exception of the hours between 3 and 7am.
We had always planned to get a dog, it was just weird luck that we ended up getting him last week, right as we entered the throes of this lock down. Swayze can fit in my hand. He’s both a terror and a delight, and he’s been both fantastic and utterly awful company. He doesn’t have all that much to do with books, but I have found him settling in a way, maybe because he seems blissfully unaware of all that’s happening in the world. Maybe, if it turns out the Coronavirus has something in common with Laura’s flu I’ll be able to ask him one day and find out I was wrong, but in the meantime, he’s a nice reminder that life goes on and there’s a balance to the craziness outside. As I write this, he’s sitting at my feet, only occasionally nipping at my toes. I’ve found that since he’s been sitting there, since I stopped forcing myself to be productive, and have allowed my mind to wander into some storybook places, the words have started to flow again. Maybe not in a torrent, but definitely in a steady trickle.