The Lockdown Tales
The Lockdown Tales
by Alan Whelan
Fiction - Contemporary
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
It was late and getting cold by the time Margo’s story was done. I reflected that she’d come a long way, in the three weeks she’d been here. She’d got close to Sue and Stuart, and they’d helped her believe that she could come back from Harry’s death.
Stuart and Danny pushed my barbecue back to the house, with Sue and Margo helping to keep it steady. This time it didn’t tip over.
Bran and Astrid stayed close to the fire, which had died down from a bonfire to a campfire. Jayleen and Bob stayed close. Bob had slept through most of the stories and was now awake, and enthralled by the night, the lake and the fire. I heard Astrid say, “The beast with three backs!” She punched Bran, amused.
He put his arm round her and drew her close. Bob climbed onto Astrid, so Jayleen took her place beside Bran, and he put his other arm round her. The night was cold. I had no idea if he really did want a threesome, but if he did I thought his chances were still close to zero.
Grace had relented after a stoned night of mostly ignoring Amelia. They walked back to the house together. I didn’t fancy Amelia’s chances much, either. But I knew that I’d make no declarations to Amelia unless her infatuation with Grace had been resolved and gone.
I collected empty bottles and put them in my pack. I probably missed some, but I’d check the ground in the morning. I shrugged the pack on and trudged back to the house.
When I reached the verandah I turned and took one last look at the fire and the lake. Astrid was kissing Bran, with intent, and Jayleen had snuggled in tight against his back. I wondered if I’d underestimated his chances. Though I still didn’t know if he had any threesome intentions. I decided it didn’t matter and I didn’t care, though no doubt it would mean a lot to them.
I shut the door behind me and went up to my bed.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q&A With the Author
Are you a Plotter (one who plans or plots out every detail of the writing process) or Pantser (one who writes by the seat of his/her pants)?
When I’m writing a novel I’m a plotter. I have the story, the characters, the major events all worked out. I used to do chapter by chapter outlines, but I found that when I was writing, sometimes I had more happening that fit into the allocated chapter while others turned out to be short-weight on incident or character reveal. So I take a more organic, pantser approach at the detailed level.
Also, if a good idea comes up while I’m writing, I’m not going to reject it just because it wasn’t in my plot outline.
Short stories are different. I generally go for a walk, with not much more than, “this is about a 48-year-old woman, and the story has to concern deception”. I make my mind blank while I walk, turn off the usual internal chatter, and usually a plot will start to float in, a setting, two or three people, a couple of key incidents and a few lines of dialogue. Then I say the story out loud, to myself, so I can focus on it and see where the plot holes might be, and hope to come up with solutions. But I write it while it’s still just a general vision, and make it specific by writing it.
So I’m a plotter/pantser hybrid.
What advice do you have for a new writer?
Read a lot of a writer you really admire. See how they do dialogue, introduce plot points, their twists of language, and so on. Then write something in imitation.
Don’t worry about stealing their style. You can’t, because you won’t be good enough. But it will make you more ambitious. As you write and practise more, you’ll find that you will never get their style right, and then you realise that you don’t want to, because your own voice is starting to emerge.
Also, try to get people who aren’t your friends or family to read your stuff, and give you honest feedback, focussed on how to improve it.
What is the easiest part of the writing process for you?
Editing is the easiest thing for me. Staring at a blank screen and having to fill it with words, people, incidents: that’s hard. I find it easier to make something that already exists better. It’s still hard work.
What is your favorite part of this story?
In The Lockdown Tales I think my favourite story was “Escape from Neville’s Island”, about a young Tamil man, Mallawi Sama Navroz, who has been stuck for eight years on the Australian governments detention centre where they held refugees prisoner, on Manus Island. And he manages to escape and sail to Australia.
It’s quite exciting, I think, and parts of his arrival in Australia are hilarious.
Which Character was the most fun to write about? Why?
I have ten lead characters, and I finished up liking all of them very much. They’re nice people, and good company, and it’s hard to pick a favourite.
Maybe it’s Jayleen Harcourt, a 28-year old single mother with a four year old son, Bob. She’s compassionate to everybody, she adores Bob, and she finds it hard to put herself first. But she’s not a shrinking violet: she’s very intelligent, though her parents couldn’t afford to send her to university, and she’s tough as nails.
Which Character was the hardest to write about? Why?
Danny Darrock is Aboriginal, but his parents had no interest in teaching him much about Aboriginal culture in general, or the culture of the Dharrug nation in particular. He’s not tortured by that. He’s mostly happy to be who he is. He’s based on a couple of guys I knew at work.
I wrote about some of his experiences with racism, since that’s part of being Aboriginal-looking in Sydney. But I didn’t want to make him a ventriloquist’s dummy for my views, or a token character.
Some people will be suspicious of a white writer writing about an Aboriginal man, but I did so carefully and respectfully, and made sure I only wrote from inside the head of a character who is Aboriginal by descent and not by cultural upbringing. I can imagine my way into Danny’s head without presuming to speak for “Aboriginal people” as a whole.
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