Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Alan Whelan and his contemporary fiction novel The Lockdown Tales
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
I tend to have minor characters who surprise me by insisting on a larger role in my story. I’m always curious as to whether other authors experience this, so I asked Alan Whelan if there was such a character in one of his stories. Here is his surprising and well thought out answer.
I once set out to see what would happen if I let my characters take the reins.
I was starting a historical novel, set in Victorian London. I put my cast in a drawing room together. Most of them were real historical figures, so they obviously had a life outside my book.
I had a direction I wanted to go in, but I let the characters say and do what they were likely to say and do.
So they made conversation, they drank tea and ate muffins, and one of the men started flirting with Ellen Terry, the actor. After I’d written twenty pages of this, I found that … nothing had happened. They were still lounging about in comfortable chairs in a nice drawing room, thanks, and in no mood to go out and have adventures.
So I saved some of the better lines of dialogue and started again. This time I made them get to work. They had things to do if I was to have a story, and I was going to make them work for their existence. I’d give them motives for their actions, but their actions are up to me.
After that experiment I decided that the “I just let the characters lead me” approach is not for me.
The question, for me, is who or what a character is. Like most writers, I expect, I create my people by making composites of two or three people I know, taking bits from each, and then I give them characteristics, experiences, attitudes, habits of speech and so on. So I tend to work out the plot and the characters at the same time.
I usually have an outline of the story I want to tell, and the people in the story have to be people who are likely to do the things that happen in the story. I make their actions as psychologically plausible as I can, and then they do what I say they do.
Still, I’ve had minor characters turn into major characters, when I hadn’t expected that.
I might have a passing stranger insult the hero so he’s in a bad mood when he meets the heroine. Originally that person is a minor character, probably slightly comic, and I expected they’d only have that walk-on and get-off part.
Then it occurs to me that the story would be stronger if there’s a character hanging around the edge of the action, always saying the wrong thing and being clumsy: spilling drinks on people and generally getting in the way. It adds an extra thread in the story that makes the rope stronger. Also, you can show important things about your lead characters by showing how they react to this nuisance.
So that minor character acquires a more detailed description of his (let’s make it “his”) appearance. I’ll tell the reader what he wears and how he moves. His speech will become more idiosyncratic.
I’ll provide him with a reason for being grumpy and clumsy. Is it a new baby? Lack of sleep? Or illness, or a wound? Maybe he’s got Achilles tendon trouble so he has to hobble everywhere, which can be exhausting and it always hurts, just a little.
But that process isn’t exactly a matter of a minor character demanding more time. It’s more that as the writer I realise that the other characters need him to react to, and maybe the story structure needs him, and it opens the possibility of having a story element that is funny or sad, or both at once, which I like.
So it’s not so much that a character bursts onto the page (or computer screen) fully formed, demanding attention. Not in my writing, or not very often.
Sometimes, if I’m very drawn to a particular character after just one paragraph’s acquaintance, I start looking closer, and suspiciously: that’s one of the signs of a stock figure.
For me it’s more that as I decide to make more use of a small character, I give him or her more depth and weight so she or he can sustain that more prominent role.
Tasso said that the only beings that deserve the name of creators are his God and writers. He actually said “poets”, but let’s extend it to prose writers as well. Writers are our characters’ unknown gods. We make them the way they are, and we set them on their way, both the lead roles and the minor roles.
About the Author
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.
Find the Author
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 email@example.com.
CONNECT WITH ALAN WHELAN
ADD THE LOCKDOWN TALES TO YOUR GOODREADS SHELF
Buy the Book
AMAZON AUS: https://amazon.com.au/dp/022884052X
INDIGO CHAPTERS: https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/the-lockdown-tales-disobedience-love/9780228840527-item.html
BARNES & NOBLE: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-lockdown-tales-alan-whelan/1138592053
BOOK DEPOSITORY: https://www.bookdepository.com/The-Lockdown-Tales-Alan-Whelan/9780228840527
APPLE BOOKS: https://books.apple.com/us/book/lockdown-tales-disobedience-love-patience-other-stories/id1548072263
Yes, there is a giveaway
The author will be awarding a $15 Amazon/BN gift card to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.
Enter here to win.
This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish. Check out all the other tour stops. If you drop by each of these and comment, you will greatly increase your chances of winning.
My Favorite Excerpt
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.
Alan Whelan — we appreciate your sharing your book The Lockdown Tales with us! Best of luck with sales, and with all of your future writing.