Welcome to the tour for The Lockdown Tales by Alan Whelan! Today you’re getting a sneak peek inside his new book as well as getting to know him a bit better. Feel free to ask him even more questions in the comments section. Be sure to follow the tour for even more. Best of luck in the giveaway!
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
Read an excerpt:
My instinct makes me want to stay away from people who are too sad, and I keep Bob away from them too. I know that’s not the kind thing to do, but people who are very messed up frighten me. I have the idea – I know it’s irrational – that some of their sickness or disfigurement or bad luck will rub off on me, or onto Bob. So I often keep away, even when I know I should probably help. But Tracy pulled me into her life, a little. I wasn’t a friend; I don’t think she had any friends. I knew her because she went to a mothers’ group in Petersham, and I went to their meetings too. It wasn’t a very practical group. Nobody swapped or passed on highchairs and walkers and other baby equipment, and no one really shared tips on looking after kids. It was just a bunch of women drinking coffee after school, talking about nothing much and watching the kids play together. Bob was two, and Tracy’s son Bylan was seven, so, like Tracy and me, they didn’t have much to do with each other. She and I only had one conversation before her life started heading downhill. She spoke to me, I think, because I was the second poorest woman there, after her. I mean, the other women were income-poor but they’d mostly had better jobs, or an employed partner, or both, before they found themselves on their own with a kid. They had more stuff, like clothes and a car and so on. I didn’t, so although Tracy was older than me she saw me as closest to her.
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1 Describe your book in one sentence or fewer than 25 words.
Ten people leave the city to isolate together in the country. They learn to trust each other. Every Friday they tell stories, to stay sane.
2 What was the inspiration behind this book?
When the lockdown came in March 2020, I knew I wasn’t going anywhere for a long time. I dropped the novel I was working on and started The Lockdown Tales. It’s a book about people trying to do right by each other in hard times, and I felt that I needed to write that, and people needed it.
My model was Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron, in which the same thing happens 700 years ago, with a different pandemic. The stories Boccaccio’s ten characters tell are funny, sometimes sad, bawdy, occasionally satirical and always realistic about human nature. I’ve tried to live up to that prescription.
3 What kind of research did you have to do for it?
Ten characters tell many kinds of story, in many different settings and time periods, from Pangea 250 million years ago to medieval Italy, to a Chinese customs post where Bertrand Russell meets Lao Tzu in 1920, to Sydney just after the Beatles played, to the world we live in now.
Research projects included:
• How do you fix a vintage car so it won’t start, but the owner won’t be able to see why?
•. Who was the ruler of Pisa in 1345?
•. If you sailed a one-person catamaran from Australia’s Manus Island refugee detention camp to Australia, and you didn’t want to be seen, what route would you take?
•. If you were a computer whizz in 1964, what project would you be likely to be working on?
•. What are the symptoms of Covid-19 and what treatments are you likely to get?
But I researched everything, really. If I said someone had breakfast in a café at a specific beach, I’d find a cafe on Google maps and look at their menu to see what they offered for breakfast. I got a bit obsessive about accuracy.
Often I found unexpected things. For example, the man who acted as Bertrand Russell’s translator when he spent 1920 in Beijing, is remembered in China as the man who translated Alice in Wonderland into written Chinese. So of course he had to be bigger in my story.
4 Which character was your favorite to write?
I like all of my characters and I’d happily have dinner with any of them.
But there’s Jayleen, a single mother aged 28, with a four-year-old son, Bob. Her parents were too poor to send her to university, though she’s smart. When the book starts she’s doing check-out in a supermarket, a front-line position in a pandemic.
She’s a little graver, a little more mature than the other characters in their twenties. And she’s as tough and strong as old boots, but she really cares about her son, and about other people..
5 To which character did you relate the most?
I relate most to the main narrator, Gail, who is a fifty-four year old woman who leaves her real estate business to live on her hobby farm when the pandemic starts. She invites the others to come and stay with her. She’s kind and generous but not effortlessly: she has to keep reminding herself to be that.
She’s in love with another woman, who is in turn chasing one of the younger women, in a not entirely dignified way. Gail keeps thinking of terribly sensible and unselfish reasons not to speak her love.
6 What was one of your favorite scenes?
In one of Jayleen’s stories, her son Bob’s childcare center holds a combined birthday party for several of the children. It’s superhero themed. That’s easy for most of the parents because you can buy cheap costumes in five and ten dollar shops. But Jayleen’s too poor to buy Bob jeans just then, and she can’t afford something he’ll only wear once. So she makes him a costume, as best she can.
So Bob’s the only one in a non-official DC or Marvell costume, and she feels absolutely humiliated. But Bob saves the day, by [SPOILERS].
7 Will we see these characters again?
There’s another volume to come. In the Decameron there are 100 stories, and it ends with the story-tellers returning to the city. The Lockdown Tales has 50 stories, and ends in 2020, with them still mostly in isolation.
The next volume is The Lockdown Tales: Emergence, which features another five Fridays full of stories. It ends with most of the characters returning to the city, though in my case some of them choose to stay on.
But once that’s completed, it’s done. There’ll be no more.
8 Which of your book worlds would you like to visit?
The Lockdown Tales is set in a place called Roughit. That’s a real place, and I have visited it. I camped by a nearby river.
In general, my books are set in the real world, and that’s where I live.
Some of my books are set in the real world but in the Victorian era, and I don’t think I’d want to spend much time there, or rather then, at all.
9 Why should we read your book?
It’s a book about people who get together and tell each other stories, and the first priority is that those should be good stories: funny, sad, bawdy, satirical, and so on. There’s range and variety there.
Also, it’s not some sort of fictional misery memoir. Times are hard, and several of the characters start out emotionally shattered. It’s realist about that. But it’s also about how people help and support each other, and can grow and find ways to get better and find new directions even in the hardest times. For a book about a pandemic it’s remarkably hopeful.
Finally, I’ve read this book more times than anyone should have to read anything, and yet it still makes me sad or angry in places, and it makes me laugh a lot too. Out loud. The damn thing is alive. Every story is one that needed to be told, and maybe it needs to be read, too.
10 What do you hope people will get out of your book?
I hope they’ll find things to laugh about and relate to emotionally. It’s written for pleasure, but it’s thoughtful about how people act and think and speak. So I think the satisfaction that comedy offers, and that realist literature offers: they’re there. And although it’s not at all a preachy book, there’s a sub-text: kindness, cleverness, courage and hope are better than their alternatives. I hope people pick up on that.
11 How do you make yourself stand out in this genre?
My genre is books that are a sort of novel/short story collection hybrid, in which the stories interconnect with the character arcs of the people telling them. The genre started with the ancient Indian text, the Panchatantra. Then there was The Thousand and One Nights. Then Boccacio’s Decameron, followed by Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Then Margaret of Navarre’s Heptameron, and more recently Julia Voznesenskaya’s The Women’s Decameron. Then there’s me, really, so I already stand out.
Beyond that it comes down to writing. The Lockdown Tales certainly includes the first story to – respectfully – mix the Australian Aboriginal Dream Time concept with ancient Chinese mythology, for example, but that’s not what’s important. If I wrote a fantasy novel about unicorns, but with a twist: the unicorns breathe fire, like dragons (!), that wouldn’t make that book stand out either.
I think I stand out, to the extent that I do, because the writing is very clear but sometimes poetic, because the dialogue “fits in the mouth” and you can imagine people speaking it, the characters feel real, and the stories have a consistently high level of invention and surprise, where the surprises come from the logic of the story and are never arbitrary. That’s a very high claim, to me, and I worked very hard to give myself the right to make it.
12 Tell us about your other published works.
Hi! I’m Alan Whelan! You may remember me from such books as Renting and You, How to Buy Your Own Home, and New Zealand Republic. Sorry to go all Troy McLure, but this is my first fiction book in print.
I do have prize-winning short stories published in various anthologies.
But my historical novel, Harris in Underland, and my ensemble novel, Blood and Bone, set in Australia, the UK and New Zealand, should be published soon.
13 On what are you currently working?
Right now I’m finishing The Lockdown Tales: Emergence. I should be done next week.
After that I get back to the novel I dropped to write The Lockdown Tales. It’s 1855, and my characters are halfway up a mountain in Persia, checking their watches and kicking rocks, wondering when their author is coming back.
14 What does your upcoming release schedule look like?
The Lockdown Tales is going for a second imprint in August. The Lockdown Tales: Emergence will be in shops and available on-line before Christmas.
I want the two finished novels published traditionally, so that’s in the lap of the gods, a bit.
15 What is your writing routine?
I get up, have breakfast and write. Then I go for a walk. Then I come back and write.
16 What is the best writing advice you ever received?
If something you’re writing makes you feel really uncomfortable, you’re probably on to something.
17 Who is your writing muse?
Nobody comes and whispers plots in my ear, alas. Sometimes I grab people and tell them the story, and telling it makes it stronger and gives me new ideas. So my muse is collective: those of my friends who are kind enough, or slow enough, not to get away when I have that look in my eye.
18 What are you currently reading? Up next on your TBR?
I’m reading the Biographer’s Moustache, by Kingsley Amis. A young man starts writing the biography of an elderly writer who is a spectacularly nasty man. I think it’s a deliberate self-portrait by Amis. The biographer and the nasty writer’s wife seem to be moving into an affair. That’s as far as I’ve got.
After that, it’s time I read a novel by Margaret Atwood that isn’t The Handmaid’s Tale.
19 What book and/or author changed your life?
Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Complete Poetical Works.
20 When not writing, what can we find you doing?
Cooking, gardening, and talking about building a tree-house.
21 If you could meet one person living or dead, who would it be and why?
Percy Bysshe Shelley. So I can say, “Don’t sail this afternoon. There’s a storm coming, and you’ve got The Triumph of Life to finish. Also, start selling your books in America as well as Britain, and you’ll reach a much bigger audience. Well, cheerio, then.”
22 Is there anything else you would like to add?
If you’re ever in the Blue Mountains of NSW, Australia, email me and I’d be happy to invite you to drop by!
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 email@example.com.
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Alan Whelan will be awarding a $15 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.a Rafflecopter giveaway