Prescience, or perhaps just bad timing, by Neil McGowan

I’ve come to the conclusion I’m either prescient, or just suffer from incredibly bad timing. Or, perhaps, it’s neither, but a form of pareidolia.

Back in early March 2020, I put the finishing touches to my first Young Adult novel. The plan was to work out a plan to do some pre-launch marketing, try and build up some pre-orders, basically all the usual stuff we do as writers when we have a new book coming out. (I use the term book loosely, to include chapbooks, poetry collections, short stories, and so on.)

I’d sketched out a few drafts of what I thought would make a good cover, worked on the blurb, written a synopsis, and was all good to go. A week later, we went into lock-down as Covid cases began to skyrocket.

Normally, this would be a gift to a writer – all that time at home to write. (You’d think, anyway, but that’s a post for another time.) My average commute was around an hour each way – I never considered it totally wasted as I often cycled and used the time to let my sub-conscious work on plot details and story arc – but now I had an extra ten hours a week to devote to making a grandiose marketing plan.

I had only one problem – the book deals with the aftermath of a viral pandemic that has swept the world and turns people into mindless creatures of violence; kind of like zombies, but more grounded in science rather than the supernatural. Although most of the book was set ten years after the virus, there was enough in it about the actual pandemic to make me uneasy about releasing it. Turns out the research I’d done prior to writing the book around pandemic response was good enough to write some scenes that were too close for comfort.

So, that book is on the shelf for now – I may rewrite it to remove the pandemic elements, or I may release it in a couple of years after a rewrite to tone down some of those elements. On the plus side, in disgust, I wrote a second Young Adult novel drawing on my experiences of my time in the Middle East and including more fantasy elements (a genie). I like this book – it’s still in the final editing stages but hoping to release it early next year – and feedback from beta readers is that there’s an honesty and energy to the characters that makes them jump off the page and come to life. Good stuff to hear, and very humbling.

With that book under my belt, I took time out to write my next adult crime novel. First draft is finished, but it grew arms and legs and is, quite frankly, a mess at the moment (even more so than usual for a first draft). I’m letting it sit and breathe for a few months before tackling the job of tidying it up and trying to produce a coherent book from it.

For my latest project, I could feel the siren call of the characters from the previous YA book – it feels like they have more to say, so I began sifting through my ideas file (it’s a mental catalogue; I’m far too disorganised to keep a physical file) and something that’s interested me for a while now is the subject of electronic tracking, data aggregation, and targetted advertising. I wrote a short story a few years back that used this as a theme and, whilst I like it, I always felt it was too short for the subject matter, and the impact was reduced by setting it in the future.

And there lies my second bit of bad luck: I figured that two teenagers in a contemporary setting would be the perfect way to explore this topic. I even had a fair few key scenes figured out, and it was with a good deal of enthusiasm I began to write.

Only for the overturning of Roe v Wade in the US to stop me in my tracks. Within days in the tech news, I was reading about how technologies such as location tracking, data slurping from apps, and targeted advertising trackers were being looked at with a view to weaponising them with the intent of identifying women who are pregnant. I don’t use the word weaponise lightly, but when there are bounties available for alerting the authorities to pregnancies, and there are already reports of data aggregators willing to sell bundled data to anyone who wants it, I feel it’s appropriate. It’s worse than I had planned for the book.

So that project has been put on hold. Casting about for fresh ideas, I’ve recently decided to take the two characters to Crete and see if I can come up with a story about the Minotaur for them.

And, deep joy, just a few days ago, what did they bring out during the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games? Yep, a bull. Eyes rolled skyward at this point. Perhaps I should try my hand at the lottery, instead.


I've always suspected writers, especially of speculative fiction, are 10 years ahead of the curve... and we don't know yet the long term effects of the pandemic (either of the virus, or the various treatments for it), so zombies... yep, maybe! Go for it.

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