Andrew Mackay on the Politics and Machinations Behind My Corona

my coronaWhat prompted you to write My Corona?

Back in March, when the virus was but a mere nuisance, I remember my wife and I leaving the supermarket with our groceries and my cell phone buzzes. It was a message from a leading newspaper app suggesting that Italy had gone into a proper, full-blown lockdown. It was something I’ve never read before, and an event neither of us had seen happen in our lifetimes. I distinctly remember saying “Italy’s on lockdown” and going on to suggest what that meant. Schools, stores, churches etc. would close.

And then, inevitably, my brain kicked into overdrive before we reached the car, and I turned to my wife and said “What if Chrome Valley went into lockdown?” – and she just laughed. Her giggling prompted me to think of all the worst things that could happen, and where it might lead to.

I thought of the way our government in the UK handled the response. At that time, Boris Johnson (our Prime Minister) and Donald Trump refused to believe the virus was serious. Italy going into lockdown changed everybody’s perspective of the virus, including my own.

By the time we drove home and parked in our driveway, I had the basis of a story in my head, and I told my wife I’d write it. By the time she’d unpacked the grocery bags, I was talking to my cover designer – because without a cover you can’t publish – and set her off on that. I then had about a week to write the short story. Well, it turned into a novel at 40k words because, as I kept writing, I kept on formulating more interesting ideas. Of course, as the days went on, more and more stories about the virus kept unfurling in the news, so it was something of a Sisyphean effort to keep up.

The cover came back a few days later with “A Novella” on the front, but by then, it was a novel. But, I figured, “fuck it” – if people buy it expecting a novella, and they get something longer – then as long as it was substantial – I thought they’d be happy.

I was supposed to be writing Psychiatrist (book 3 in the Chrome Valley Thrillers series) which has a release date of May 3rd, and so slotting My Corona into my schedule was a risk. Fortunately, at time of writing (April 12th) Psychiatrist is nearly done, and I am on schedule.

It’s funny – all this lockdown stuff has made me write faster. Go figure.

 

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Your main characters were part of a family that was on the front lines of COVID-19 in a variety of ways. Why did you choose them to represent Chrome Valley?

Your question pretty much nails my thinking at the time when I was formulating the story in my head. I thought if I was going to do the story justice, then I’d need to cover as many lives as possible. So, we have Dolph, a teenager. His mother is a nurse on the frontlines. His father has the virus, and is holed up in the bedroom. His sister is naïve, and is somewhat mentally challenged and younger, and in danger of losing her mind. And then, of course, there’s Nanna – a world-weary racist who was able to personify all the nasty, xenophobic shit I’d been hearing about on the news.

It’s a family made up of different characters, ages, insights, and viewpoints. I knew at least one of them would be relatable to the reader. Cast a wide net, and you’ll catch some decent fish.

But, really, My Corona is Dolph’s story. He’s a good guy, but a typical eighteen-year-old – somewhat listless and without direction (as are most of the kids in Chrome Valley) but his heart is in the right place. He’s the one who goes through a massive journey-starting out good, but as time goes on, is gently, and then more aggressively, forced into a position where he must become the bad guy in order to survive and provide for his family.

Ophelia, the nurse, is a good guy, too – she’s having to suffer the inaction of the authorities and literally put her life in danger attending to the sick and dying. She risks catching the virus. There’s a tender moment when Dolph gives her a bottle of hand sanitizer, and she refuses to use it because she keeps it in her pocket to remind her of him. I think that’s sweet. A lovely little rosebud in a flowerpot filled with shit.

Then, there’s the virus itself – COVID-20. I had to hasten the virus’s symptoms and global spread a little bit because the story demanded it. Other than the speeding-up of events, the book accurately reflects (at least for the first two-thirds) how Western society has acted when it comes to preventing the virus. There’s nothing inherently fictitious about the story, right down to Nanna’s vicious speech about the Chinese (which I genuinely overheard at Bean There, Done That, the coffee store I used to visit daily) and the sign on the Chinese takeaway storefront advising that they haven’t travelled and thus, don’t have the virus.

Even at time of writing, it’s still too early to know how all this will play out. I’m on lockdown, and my wife is working from home, now. If you check social media, it seems as if people are losing their mind. Granted, riots haven’t broken out – not yet, anyway. We’ll see where we are in, say, middle of June – when people’s cash and reserves have seriously run out, and the food banks buckle under the weight of the millions of unemployed all fighting each other over the last loaf of stale bread. Funnily enough, Italy is considering reversing the lockdown in southern Italy for fears of rioting and civil unrest. But what will the cost be if they actually do it? In other words, which bullet would you like to get hit with?

Tell us about your difficulties publishing My Corona. Did you consider that censorship?

Ohhhhhh … <shakes head> well, companies need to be seen to be caring, right? eBay and Amazon decide to pull all the overpriced hand sanitizer and toilet paper people were selling.

While I was writing My Corona, I was more fearful about a potential backlash from my own readership. This usually happens when you’re writing something contentious, and I write a lot of contentious stuff. I think a part of me wanted to offend readers with My Corona, because I am a true rebel at heart, and I really like to get under people’s skin. So, on that level, My Corona satisfied me enough to take the idea seriously and write.

As it happens, the reviews for My Corona are spot on. Everyone I know who has read and finished it has, at least, “got it” on some level. It’s one of my best-reviewed books. I think that’s because it comes from an honest and angry, place. I recently asked a question on my Facebook group – “Are you satisfied with the way the UK/US government are handling the COVID-19 pandemic. Every single response so far has been “no, we’re not.” The real reason I asked was for a bit of validation. Only those who would sympathize with how the situation has been tackled would take offence to My Corona. It is, after all, a satire.

So, imagine my surprise when I uploaded the ebook to Amazon, to find out four days later via email that they wouldn’t be publishing the book! I uploaded both the ebook and paperback, and the latter got through. I even managed to order three copies, but they’ve still to ship some three weeks later. The paperback is blocked now. You can’t order it. On my KDP bookshelf, it has a big, red BLOCKED message on it.

Regarding the ebook, which usually takes between 6-12 to publish, after the 96th hour, I got an email saying “Sorry, but we’re not publishing this because it contravenes guidelines” blah blah blah… you see, now, Amazon are touchy about anything Coronavirus related. My Corona doesn’t exactly hide its content. It has a gas mask and an incendiary feel to it, in addition to its snarky title. But, whatever, Amazon tells me “thanks, but no thanks” – and then two minutes later, the book publishes on the site! I mean WTF?!

So, I said nothing. Even to this moment I don’t want to change anything and update it, just so I don’t draw attention to the fact they’ve let it through. It must have been an accident. Whoever wrote me that email must have laughed as he hit send, and then accidentally clicked “publish” instead of “block.” So I am leaving it alone. I know Amazon is basically one giant computer designed to earn money. I can’t ever touch the ebook, or change its price, or its product description. There will never be a paperback, now. And I hate that because I always order a few copies of my paperbacks – one for ornamental reasons for my bookshelf, and a few copies to give away as prizes.

Also, I set up three adverts for My Corona, and Amazon accepted them. Then, two days after they ran, they cancelled the last two, citing “your product no longer meets our policies”, or something like that. The first advert is still running, so I need to keep it alive and healthy and spend on it – because once it dies, like all ads do, My Corona won’t be advertised any more.

I’ve learned a lot about Amazon during this process. I’m not even sure what I’ve learned (lol) but one thing I do know is this – they are inconsistent.

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

I hope readers brave enough to read My Corona in the current climate will at least feel comforted by the fact that they are not alone in their anger at how everything has been handled. I simply cannot believe what I have been seeing with Donald Trump, lately, with his press briefings. Honestly, he’s just an imbecile and an outright liar. Back when he won the election in 2016, I was all in favour of giving the guy a chance. A fair day in court. But, I’m sorry to say, week after week after month after year, it’s been a slow, slippery slope to Egosville via illiteracy drive. Once this is all done and dusted, Trump alone is going to have presided over the largest amount of avoidable fatalities the country has ever seen. Boris Johnson isn’t much better, either. He caught the virus after boasting that he shook a lot of patients’ hands. What the fuck did he think was gonna happen?

The world is run by idiots. Trump and Johnson do not run the world. Those we never see, the big five corporations, Rothschilds, Rockefellers, et al., they run the world. And they know what they’re doing. They’re not idiots.

My readers aren’t idiots, either. Sure, we may be powerless do anything about the situation we’re in, but we must keep our ears to the ground, and our eyes on the prize. We have to roar as loud as we can, and have the guts to face reality. We need to read books that keep us alive, mentally and physically, and, above all else, share a common theme and something we can agree on. My Corona is an angry, dark, violent and bleak work of fiction mirrored against the starkest of realities – and it’s my intention that the reader recognizes that being angry is not only okay, but they must get angry if they’re not already – and, stay angry.

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