Writers adapt to COVID-19 with connection and community

COVID-19 has decimated many writers' schedules: book launches have been postponed, gigs cancelled. But amidst the chaos, an online community is flourishing.

Like many authors, Kirsten Krauth had a book scheduled to launch this month. Almost a Mirror dives deep into the 1980s music scene and takes readers to a place where the shimmering pop world of Countdown collides with the post-punk scene of St Kilda’s notorious Crystal Ballroom.

But at this stage, the book won’t be launched in a pub, dive bar, bandroom, bookshop or anywhere that requires you to step outside your front door. It will be launched online though a new Facebook group, Writers Go Forth. Launch. Promote. Party.

Established by Krauth herself, the page is designed to assist Australian writers whose festival gigs and launches were cancelled after COVID-19 began to spread. Already it has some 1700 members

‘Rather than be despondent, I figured there were many other writers who were dealing with the same disappointments, so I set up the group for writers whose books were due out in 2020 (or who had festival gigs talking about their books) and the readers who love them.’ Krauth said.

‘It’s become a great social hub for people who love writing and authors who are launching their books online. I can host watch parties so people can view together and people can have Happy Book Days to reveal their book covers.’

Evoking a sense of community spirit, writer, editor and broadcaster Melissa Cranenburgh, the host of 3RRR’s book show Backstory, has also come up with alternate ways for writers to promote their books in the wake of COVID-19. 

Meet Me for Launch is a new radio segment that gives writers the opportunity to promote the books they would otherwise have physically launched in a store. Authors write in with their details and Cranenburgh spruiks their books on air.

‘We have this amazing culture of bricks and mortar bookstores in Melbourne and obviously they face real issues because they can’t move to an online model,’ she said. 

‘Books are, for many people, those comforts from childhood and I think many people are turning to them right now. It’s really nice to have a communion with someone’s mind that is beyond the present crisis or which re-frames it.’

‘It’s really nice to have a communion with someone’s mind that is beyond the present crisis or which re-frames it.’

– Melissa Cranenburgh

This thinking has also inspired Comfort Reads, a segment encouraging readers to write in or record a voice message sharing the books which are providing them solace during this period.

‘I thought it would be a nice thing to do because that’s another piece of social connection,’ Cranenburgh said.

Other writers who are keeping readers and writers connected include Maxine Beneba Clarke, who has started reviewing books on Twitter via the account  Australian Book Threads, and children’s author Sally Rippin, who has launched a free holiday program where kids can read a book then complete online worksheets and other activities.

Journalist, author and essayist Matilda Dixon-Smith said the writing community has responded to the current health crisis by emphasising a sense of connection and community.

‘The fascinating way in which people are responding to this intense and unprecedented pressure is actually really inspiring,’ Dixon-Smith told ArtsHub. 

By way of example she points to Melbourne bookshops Hares & Hyenas in Fitzroy and Yarraville’s The Sun Bookshop, both of which are delivering books to locals via pushbike even though their shopfronts are closed; and also Guardian Australia journalist Gina Rushton, who has compiled a newsletter full of inspiring reads and featuring non-COVID-19 related content, a no doubt a welcome distraction from the relentless news cycle.

Dixon-Smith has also been inspired, creating The Broken-Heart Brigade, a romcom delivered in weekly installments, an idea which may not have come to fruition had the current crisis not occured.

‘I thought about how prose used to be serialised in papers and periodicals in the 19th century, before it was collected, bound and republished as a book, and how this was like an earlier form of “appointment television” … and I figured this could be a fun, though kind of risky (in a good way!) mode of writing a romcom for a very online pandemic audience.’

For Krauth, whose new book is set up as a mixtape of ‘80s songs, the inability to launch the book across the country has presented her with a range of other opportunities such as collaborating with artists including Michael Simic, Peter Fenton and Richard Andrew who have sent her songs that will result in a talking book or podcast. 

‘The changes that have come with self-isolation and not being able to get together socially have meant interesting ideas have come to the fore. I’ve had many approaches to do video interviews and audio readings that will be shared or streamed online. It’s been great to have the book morph into a collaboration and new creative process.’

‘The changes that have come with self-isolation and not being able to get together socially have meant interesting ideas have come to the fore.’

– Kirsten Krauth

But for now, reading, supporting authors and getting lost in an alternate reality is one of the best things we can do. We need books more than ever, said Cranenburgh.

‘I feel like there’s both solace and wisdom in books, particularly novels right now. I think more than ever novels are a great place to go, not just to hide, but also learn how to live. I hope people keep that with them beyond this present crisis because I am guessing that you can tell in the public sphere who’s a reader and who isn’t, because it really does create a different level of empathy and thinking in the world.’

Almost a Mirror book launch & celebration with Kirsten Krauth will launch virtually on Friday 3 April at 5:00pm on Writers Go Forth Launch. Promote. Party.

To pitch a book to either Comfort Reads or Meet Me For Launch email backstoryrrr@gmail.com.