@Archaeolibrary, @GoddessFish, @alanNwhelan,
Seven women and three men leave the city to avoid a pandemic. They isolate together in a local farm, where they pass the time working, flirting, eating, drinking, making music and above all telling stories. It happened in Florence in 1351, during the Plague, and gave us Boccaccio's Decameron.
Seven hundred years later, in Australia, it happens again. The stories are very different, but they're still bawdy, satirical, funny and sometimes sad, and they celebrate human cleverness, love, courage and imagination.
"Alan Whelan brings us a clever, sensual and sometimes poignant collection of stories that would make Boccaccio proud"
- Tangea Tansley, author of A Question of Belonging
"An old frame for a sharp new snapshot of contemporary Australia"
- Leigh Swinbourne, author of Shadow in the Forest
She drank, then coughed. I wanted to put my arm, or perhaps both arms, round her, but it seemed opportunistic. I should just be there, being supportive and putting no extra responsibilities on her.
I heard guitar notes from the house. It was less skilled than what we’d become used to, which meant that Bran was playing. I suspected that when we returned inside Grace and Danny would be gone. Danny’s room was the furthest room from Amelia’s. They’d be there.
Amelia sighed. She’d probably had the same thought. At last she said, “Actually, though, I’m still glad I’m here. This is a lovely place. And these are good people. If we have to be locked down, I can’t think of a better place to be.”
“Yeah. I have no idea what happens now. Yesterday I tuned into the news, for the first time in weeks. None of it’s good. I’m pretty pessimistic, to tell the truth. There’s a second wave. And maybe years to wait for a vaccine. Or even an effective treatment.”
Amelia nodded. “In Boccaccio his people went back to Florence after just 15 days. In reality, that would’ve been too soon. They’d still have been at risk. We might have to be here for months.”
“I’m not going anywhere. Nor’s this place. And I’m not tired of anyone yet.”
Amelia smiled. “Well, I’ll have to try not to be tiresome. I may be doing more work, I mean academic work, from now on.”
I nodded. “Sure. You can borrow my office. Anyway,” I inclined my head towards the house, “let’s face the music.”
We walked from the vast comfort of a sky that didn’t know us or care, to the warmth, where people did both.
What do you love about self publishing?
The truth is, I hadn’t wanted to self-publish The Lockdown Tales. It’s the world’s first single-author full-length fiction on people coping with lockdown, and it comes with rave reviews from critics and other novelists.
I wanted to get it into shops while the lockdown was on, because although it’s fiction there’s an underlying message of hope. I felt that’s a valuable thing to put out in a dark time.
The characters, like most people, try to do their best in hard times. Both the stories of their own experiences in lockdown, and the stories they tell each other to stay sane, entertained and in touch with each other., reflect that.
It’s not a didactic or preachy book: its goal is to be entertaining, funny, sometimes sad, sometimes bawdy, sometimes satirical and so on. But there’s an underlying worldview, hidden amongst the stories. It’s a simple one: courage, cleverness, kindness and hope are better than their alternatives.
This is a time when that’s worth saying out loud.
I worked hard on The Lockdown Tales, to get it finished in just seven-eight months. The people I was living with got worried about me. I wrote from breakfast till midnight, and took almost no days off. It was difficult to talk to me, I’m told, about anything but plot points.
But once I had a polished product, with the help of my wonderful beta-readers, two of whom happened to be professional editors (it pays an author to pick their friends well), I went amongst the agents and publishers.
It’s a timely book, I’d point out. It’s literally got a captive audience, and it’s speaking directly to them about what’s happening right now. It speaks with grace and wit.
A Very Famous Publisher wrote back to me to say that a fictional work about the lockdown sounds interesting, but their activities were reduced just at the moment. They’d take a look at it when the lockdown was over.
After that I looked amongst the self-publishers. I chose Tellwell because they offered a good package of services. I knew absolutely nothing about the publishing and distribution process and I’d need their support, advice and assistance. They’ve provided that, well.
It’s a very good-looking book, with a great cover. That’s based on my idea (updating an old painting showing a story being told in Boccaccio’s Decameron) but their illustrator, Floyd, did me proud.
I’m pleased I insisted on having 500 paper copies to sell in Australia. Before lockdown returned even harder, with the arrival of the Delta variant, I loved going out and meeting my public, with a table piled with copies and an electronic card-reader.
I talked to thousands of people as I took my street stall from place to place, and sold enough copies to break even. Everything from that point (the remaining 200 copies) is profit. I loved meeting my public, especially those who passed me a day or two after they’d bought the book and paid me compliments and told other people to buy the damn thing while it was hot. So that was great.
When the current lockdown is over, I’m going to get out and flog off the remaining 200 copies, and spend it on my teeth, also champagne and runny cheeses.
What’s the worst part of self-publishing?
The worst part is that although this is a literary work that comes with high praise from literary people who are not my friends or family, there’s still prejudice against self-published books.
I haven’t been able to get it reviewed in major newspapers or magazines. The absence of reviews, except those I got myself by sending out copies, means that I haven’t been picked up by a book distribution company.
I’m working on that, but a writer’s skill set is not quite the same as a businessperson’s.
I surprised myself by turning out to be a good retail salesperson, selling the books one at a time to people I’m talking to. But I don’t have the magic key to dealing with corporations.
The risk is having 500 satisfied individual customers, but remaining completely unknown to the literary and publishing world. That’d be a pity, because I have two completed novels that I don’t intend to self-publish, and being known would be a real practical help.
So that has, from time to time, got me down. But I pick myself up and headbutt that brick wall again. Eventually it’s going to give.
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Alan Whelan lives in the Blue Mountains of NSW, Australia. He’s been a political activist, mainly on homelessness, landlord-tenant issues and unemployment, and a public servant writing social policy for governments. He’s now a free-lance writer, editor and researcher.
His story, There Is, was short-listed for the Newcastle Short Story Award in June 2020, and appeared in their 2020 anthology. His story, Wilful Damage, won a Merit Prize in the TulipTree Publications (Colorado) September 2020 Short Story Competition, and appears in their anthology, Stories that Need to be Told. It was nominated by the publisher for the 2021 Pushcart Prize.
His book The Lockdown Tales, using Boccaccio’s Decameron framework to show people living with the Covid-19 lockdown, is now on sale in paperback and ebook.
His novels, Harris in Underland and Blood and Bone are soon to be sent to publishers. He is currently working on the sequel to The Lockdown Tales and will then complete the sequel to Harris in Underland.
Alan Whelan co-wrote the book, New Zealand Republic, and has had journalism and comment pieces published in The New Zealand Listener and every major New Zealand newspaper, plus The Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald.
He wrote two books for the NZ Government: Renting and You and How to Buy Your Own Home. His stories also appear in Stories of Hope, a 2020 anthology to raise funds for Australian bushfire victims, and other anthologies.
His website is alanwhelan.org. He tweets as @alannwhelan.
His phone number is +61 433 159 663. Enthusiastic acceptances and emphatic rejections, also thoughtful questions, are generally sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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