How COVID Is Changing Us
A Bit Too Real
A walk through Central London is a shock. For the past four months it has been like a quiet country village – and despite a half-hearted effort to get people into offices, it still is. A great many of the shops remain shut. There’s a cat asleep in the middle of St Martin’s Lane. You don’t have to look before crossing a road. It’s quiet enough to hear birdsong and church bells.
After a brief, excited opening Soho’s bubble tea bars and coffee shops are boarding up again. In Dover Street, just off Charing Cross Road, my favourite butchers, which became an ice cream shop aimed at tourists, is now closed and gone. The butcher’s had been there for a century. What we’re being offered no longer reflects what we want. We can see now just how much of the city was aimed purely at tourists.
As the COVID picture becomes increasingly complex and long-term, fiction writers have another problem. If we win readers for reflecting real life, at some point we have to start representing our new world. But does anyone want to read about the pandemic? During the Great Depression everyone turned to escapism. Will the subject of lockdown fill theatres, assuming they ever reopen?
Production Assistant Not Wanted
Before the pandemic there was a huge queue for media-related jobs, but a media studies degree has lost most of its value these days. Just as Amazon became the new Woolworths, so Netflix aims to replace all other home entertainment, and independent production is dying away.
The new heroes are those who do something useful. Until COVID, Britain was the home of the ‘soft job’, with an ever-increasing number of workers in arts and the media. Now a nurse, butcher or plumber is perceived as being of more value to the community, and while my local electrician has a month-long waiting list of work, production companies have furloughed their staff.
What will it take to persuade a Gen Y media studies graduate to retrain? That generation was raised on the idea that the arts and the media were glamorous careers, and many find the fantasy too hard to let go. My local fish shop closed down because the owner’s son did not wish to follow generations of his family into fish but wanted to be a music producer. He is now out of work. It will be interesting to see how we adapt.
My Next Guest Is…
I’ve just finished doing some interviews for the new Bryant & May novel, ‘Oranges & Lemons’. Before, I would have gone into the studio, met the production team and been interviewed by the programme host. (I could easily live in the stunning studio run by ‘Monocle’ magazine in Marylebone.) The last time I went to BBC’s Broadcasting House for an interview I swiped myself in through the building, poured an automated coffee in an automated studio, listened to a disembodied voice and spoke into a mic, then left without speaking to another human being.
Now, COVID has brought a welcome change. I download an app, set up my own voice levels and do the whole thing at home. Different shows use different systems. Zoom isn’t broadcast audio quality so I add a second app to record my voice, and simply send it to the interviewer as a WAP file. No need to move from my sofa.
Podcasts and sites I’ve appeared on like Joined Up Writing, Tim Haig Reads Books and Writer’s Routine are changing the game with smart, sharp interviews and well researched pieces. But how long has it taken publishing to catch up and come aboard? Why don’t podcast reviewers get quoted on book jackets instead of some old duffer at the Telegraph?