Friday, April 3, 2020


By Abir

These are extraordinary times. How has the business of being an author changed, for you, in this new reality? 

Welcome to Friday.

Another week in this new reality draws to a close, not that there seems to be much of difference between a weekday and the weekend anymore. I hope you’re all hunkered down, safe and sound, looking after your loved ones and have a plentiful supply of life’s essentials: tea, toilet paper and a shed load of good books to read.

So this week’s question: How has the business of being an author changed in this brave new world?

I suppose the first thing to say is that my productivity has plummeted. It’s not just declined, it’s fallen through the floor and heading for the subway. I’m not the only author who seems to have been affected in this way, but that’s cold comfort. 

Too often I find myself staring at a blank screen for what feels like hours. When the words come, they come as a trickle and they’re bad…really bad. Like grade school bad. I can feel my characters staring up at me and saying, ‘What the hell, mate? What sort of words are these? You know we talk more goodly than this, right?’

I mouth them an apology and blame it on the fact that since the schools closed and the kids have been at home, my routine has gone out of the window. But the truth is deeper than that. I haven’t been able to focus for almost a month now. 

I’m trying to write two books at the moment: the fifth book in the Wyndham and Banerjee series, and my first non-India set book: one which is based mainly in present-day USA. Unfortunately both are floundering at the moment.

I was intrigued to read yesterday that Jim is writing a book set in India – I can’t wait to read it! 

Each morning I get up and tell myself, ‘Today I will break the impasse. Today the words will start flowing,’ and then I’ll spend the best part of the morning arsing around doing admin and e mails and all the other stuff rather than concentrating on the writing. Things have gotten so bad that I’ve even made a start on my taxes rather than write words.

I’m counting my blessings, though. The family are all safe and well. Even my stubborn old mum who’s in her seventies but acts like she’s twenty-five, has taken heed of the advice I and my sister have shouted at her and has been self-isolating. And as an author, used to having months with little cash coming in, I’m aware at just how lucky I am that my livelihood, so far, hasn’t been damaged to any great degree. 

What has been hit are the events and book festivals I was scheduled to attend. These are being cancelled across the world. In one fortnight alone, I was supposed to be in Belfast, Glasgow and Lyon in France, and missing these hurts, as meeting people at events are my favourite, but what hurts most is the cancellation of the Edgars in New York. I love my trips to the US, and I was hoping to tack on a week or two for research. That plan has now gone out of the window. 

Throughout the summer, I was scheduled to attend festivals from the north of Scotland to India. All have been cancelled, and while there’s a revenue hit – in the UK authors are generally paid to appear at festivals - that’s minimal inconvenience compared to the what the hard working organisers go through.

In terms of book launches, I’ve been quite fortunate. I had fa ew launches of my books scheduled in different countries during this period, but most have been pushed back. To be honest my biggest concern is Italy – not for my books, but for my wonderful publishers there who have always treated me like family. They are fantastic people and I worry for them. For the moment they are all well, but it’s been difficult.

The final part of the picture, I suppose, is book sales. I receive my UK sales figures on a weekly basis, and after the first week of lock down I saw a 30% rise (albeit from a low base!) in sales across all formats and books. This seems to be in keeping with the market as a whole, which saw a 30% to 35% rise that week. But then last week the bookshops closed and Amazon have stopped shipping physical books, so who knows what this week’s sales will look like.

So that’s it. My writing life has slowed and feels like plodding through treacle. I fill the time by doing taxes, pretending to teach the kids, shouting at my mum to stay indoors and, in turn am being shouted at by my wife, who thinks that if I so much as look outside, I’m going to catch Covid-19. I keep telling her I’m invincible but she doesn’t listen. But as long as that’s the sum of my worries, it really isn’t so bad.

Take care, folks. Look after yourselves and your families and hopefully we’ll get through this soon.


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