When theatre, cinema and television productions came to a screeching halt, I became reduced to watching endless repeats of my all-time TV favourites to feed my soul. You can’t have too much of the good old classics, but something is definitely missing.
Art reflects life. It craves relevance. It needs to hit points of reference for its audience to engage with it. Otherwise it becomes obsolete and reduced to its mere form and no content. Intensely dramatic times (such as the ones we live in) demand a reaction, a response and a commentary. Lockdown prevents that where performing arts are concerned. They can’t flourish without human interaction, physicality and a tangible setting. Social distancing has totally paralysed their delivery to the audience. They have been critically wounded by the pandemic.
I have been watching with interest (and with my fingers crossed) as performing arts attempt to adjust to our non-contact reality: online concerts, TV-shorts recorded from actors’ bedrooms, filmed by their spouses, improvised dialogue conducted over skype or zoom. Today, Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues are starting on the BBC, and I am looking forward to that. But it all seems contrived and stilted. It lacks authenticity. There is no cohesion to those performances – no atmosphere, no setting, no tension. They are not happening.
It is early days and I’m sure that with time the art of performing in isolation will be perfected. But for now, what’s left is books. They are immune to the virus and they thrive in this time of pandemic. I have never read with such intensity as I do now. Books are compensating for the acute shortages in other creative departments. Authors don’t need interaction to develop rich new worlds, characters and nuanced interactions between them. In fact, authors flourish in solitude. Reading their work is a journey inside their heads, and their heads are teeming with stories, people, tragedies, sights, sounds, smells, sensations and sometimes happy endings. Right now, one of the last few ways you can get new and wholesome experiences is through books.
I have been writing too. The world is changing before my eyes. If I blink I may miss something that must be captured. My writing has to adapt. New situations and limitations have to be reflected in my books or my writing will become irrelevant. But the writing, just as the reading, won’t stop. My next book, The End of the Road, will be launched on 30th July with no real-life fanfares or signing events, but books aren’t about events other than the ones they harbour inside them.
In a strange twist of fate, the futuristic world I describe in The End of the Road is not that far ahead of the bizarre lockdown world we live in today. It may not seem that far-fetched to today’s reader at all. That is the beauty of books. They evolve and adapt. They are beings rather than objects. They come to life in their authors’ minds and then journey from a concept, through a first draft to interacting with the reader in the real world.
The End of the Road can be pre-ordered at: http://mybook.to/TheEndoftheRoad