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A Novel Time: Authors In Isolation

Designed by Macklin Leslie.

The world is living through the weirdest time in its globalised existence.

"Unprecedented" and "never before" and "strange times" have become almost compulsory pleasantries said or exchanged in our every interaction, as ubiquitous as signing off an email with "best wishes".

As coronavirus fears deepened in Australia, people began to realise they were going to be home more than they were used to – and that meant more time to read.

All over the world, booksellers reckoned with increased demand and a limited capacity to sell as everything locked down.

Bookshop Manager Alannah Woods. Photo supplied.

Manager of Dymocks Bookshop in Melbourne, Alannah Woods, said she saw a noticeable increase in book buying as people readied themselves for lockdown.

“In the lead-up to the big isolating period, we had people coming in buying bulk editions and bulk copies of lots of different kinds of books,” she said.

More than ever, people wanted to escape and Ms Woods said she was interested to see people “branch out” in their lockdown purchases.

“People have decided to try different genres, fiction and non-fiction, it’s been really interesting,” Ms Woods said.

But what about authors of those books? The people who created the worlds readers dipped into in times of despair or crisis? How were they in isolation?

Laura McPhee-Browne. Photo supplied by Leah Jing.

Laura McPhee-Browne, author of Cherry Beach, said isolation had been “not great” for her writing process, but that it might leave impression on her writing.

“It appeals maybe to write about it to some extent, but maybe not as realism,” she explained.

McPhee-Browne said she was interested in the “collective experience”, because everyone seemed to be experiencing similar things.

“We’re all feeling so tired, not feeling like we want to do anything new or produce anything. Maybe we needed that,” she said.

Hetty, one of Cherry Beach’s main characters, struggled a lot with alcoholism and McPhee-Browne said her personal struggle with alcohol, especially in isolation, had been difficult to navigate.

“I think the main thing I’ve learnt that is helpful is that there’s always a reason behind why you’re wanting to drink,” she said

“It’s not going to be nice, most of the time, to look at that reason and sit with it.”

And McPhee-Browne wasn’t the only author in isolation who faced a personal struggle.

Laura Elizabeth Woollett. Photo supplied.

Laura Elizabeth Woollett, author of Beautiful Revolutionary and The Love of a Bad Man, said isolation had been a “weird” time.

Woollett, whose recent Guardian article tackled the complexities of what it was like to have an eating disorder at an age where people began to discuss having children, said lockdown’s lack of routine had brought with it some stress.

“The feeling of not getting as much exercise and stuff has made me anxious at times,” she said.

The author was pleased the response to her piece had been positive, as women said it spoke to them during isolation,

where many felt a pressure to emerge with some physical change.

“I think a lot of people are having that anxiety at the moment,” she said.

Aside from those internal struggles and the “looming uncertainty” of the future, Woolett said that her research for her next novel kept her occupied during lockdown.

“I’m reading a lot about the internet right now, about cyber hate, so it’s completely detached from what’s going on,” she said.

“I think that there’s comfort in exploring a new subject, which is not anything to do with the pandemic and current events.”

McPhee-Browne said she was touched by readers who reached out to tell her Cherry Beach had helped them through the pandemic.

“It’s just been so lovely, people have said all different things, but I guess it’s been quite immersive for people at a time when you’d like a distraction,” she said.

“It means everything to me.”

Readers and authors alike, everybody has experienced uncertainty during this novel time.

To listen to the full interviews with Laura McPhee-Browne and Laura Elizabeth Woollett, go to:

If you, or anyone you know struggles with any of the issues raised in this piece, reach out.

Eating Disorder Helpline: Ph 1300 550 236

National Drug and Other Hotline: Ph 1800 250 015

Coronavirus Wellbeing Support Service: Ph 1800 512 348


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