Running online classes feels pretty normal now. I’m used to the routine of tidying up only what’s going to be in frame, making sure the disarray of my office room is pushed back off camera. I’m used to coming across more learned thanks to the quotations, dates and teaching notes I have written in big black marker and stuck to the desk and wall behind the laptop; and although it took quite a bit of trial and error, I know by now which angle and lighting is most flattering. The students are used to it now too, although within my groups there is the unanimous opinion that in-person classes are more rewarding. One thing I have observed though, is that what discourse has lost in terms of face to face body language it has made up for in necessitated politeness. If you want to be heard you’ve got to let the other person in the group finish their sentence. You’ve got to listen to what they are saying so that you can tell when they’re finished speaking. So you can’t have a heated argument, because unlike face to face no-one can hear either of you if you talk over each other. You can’t be heard until the other person stops. Maybe people will end up being more polite as a result of all this online interaction. For online forums on the other hand, where there is anonymity, this period of time has served to sharpen the rhetorical swords of many, and the more entrenched in their opinions people become, the sharper their words.

The Tall Owl and Other Stories

The Tall Owl and Other Stories

In my writing classes with the lovely Zoom heads and shoulders of my students, all in their their particular rooms that I’ve got to know so well (oh is that a new cushion cover? Is that a painting or a print behind you? Ah, you fixed the bulb! I didn’t know you have a cat, here let me show you my snake) a question which has come up with those writing fiction is: how soon can we start writing Covid into our plot? Non-fiction writers don’t have this problem. As with all non-fiction, the rule is be truthful (but right now just don’t try and post it or share it if you can’t back it up with statistics and verifiable facts, otherwise you could have just made it up and it you will be impaled upon the daggers of disagreement). But in terms of using Covid as a background setting or plot device for a narrative you’re inventing, it seems that people aren’t ready to do it.

When we talked about this, one of my students, who has taken to balancing her phone on the arm of her couch, lying back and looking wistfully out the window during the lesson, suggested that it is because it’s we are stuck in the story. The Zoom heads nodded in agreement. We are all living this story and we don’t even know if its fiction anyway. Whichever view you have about what we are being told and what we are not being told, the only thing for sure is that if you are sure about it, you’re wrong. Because we really don’t know what’s going on. We’re all in Act 2, where the protagonist is struggling with a new truth and nothing is clear or certain, other than it’s a struggle. The end is not inevitable yet. More Zoom nodding.

So, right now, non-fiction books which promise to tell us the truth about our world will sell. It’s just not the right time for fiction unless it’s set in a different time, a different world, one where Covid is not looming over us and lurking within us without us knowing.

Another student, an elderly lady who sits on rocking chair in front of pale wall which is bare but for a crucifix in its centre shakes her head and smiles whenever a story involving death or violence is submitted. There’s enough of that already, she says. On the subject of Covid she doesn’t see the point in writing about it. It’s already everywhere, what can you say about it? People read fiction to take a break from themselves she reasons, so give them something else to think about. It’s hard to disagree with a wise old lady in a rocking chair. Especially on Zoom. It’s calming just to watch her, and I don’t want to disturb her in her own home.

My youngest student, on the other hand is a spoken word artist who writes poetic polemics, reactions to what he sees people going through, and he’s good. The Zoom crew loves when he reads his work. It’s all about our Covid realities, finding the strength inside ourselves to stand for our truths, realising the power of reaching out instead of in, these are the messages he’s sending out. He’s got lots of material. He sees a lot to write about while those who are writing fiction are running dry.

At the start of the lockdown I thought that this year would be a bumper year for creative output. If love poems and amazing works of fiction don’t come out of this then I don’t know what we’re all doing. Especially love poems I thought. Forced isolation, restrictions on personal contact, the threat of death wafted around in front of us constantly, what more could a romantic voice want? Who wouldn’t take inspiration from this situation? But maybe I was totally wrong. The story is so strong we can’t create another fiction to compete with it. It’s too strong a narrative magnet even for the words of romance.

And we can’t use Covid in our fiction. In the discourse there is a demand for what is reported to be fact checked and verified. There is a standard of truth which people are demanding when we talk about Covid, otherwise expect to be impaled upon the sharpened daggers of online disagreement. So if you’re going to make stuff up, don’t write a story about it.

Maybe it’ll change when we get back to face to face meetings. When we’re not talking to each other from the little squares we’ve tidied; when I’m not in control of the lighting and I actually have to remember the details of the class plan for that week without post-its. And when we can have a good old argument again.

About the Book

In Eastern Europe an orphan is taken in by a young preacher, who wants to build a Ministry in the woods. In the foothills of a great mountain range, a mother and daughter struggle with the consequences of a life changing accident. Two army servicemen take their injured comrade to witness a locust swarm. In a small town in Ireland, a group of friends carrying a secret navigate their way into adulthood. On a documentary project in China, a cameraman gets an unexpected opportunity which challenges his pursuit of happiness. A mother's recurring dream opens up communication with her son who is following his own dream in New York. Released from a secure hospital unit for two days, Amy visits her sick Grandmother and meets an unlikely animal. George has been having an affair. How far does it have to go before he risks everything?

These and other stories tell tales of adversity, loss, obsession, secrets, triumph and love. Within these pages, side by side, bumping against each other and jostling for space, are characters in different parts of the world, with different motivations and facing different problems, with different destinations but all moved by the momentum of the heart.

About the Author

Born and raised in Blarney, County Cork in Ireland, now living in South Wales, Colum Sanson-Regan's first experience of storytelling was to tourists visiting the castle, improvising local legends to coax a bit of change from their pockets. Colum lived there until he was 17, when he moved to Dublin. He should have been repeating his A levels, but instead of going into the classes, he left the house with the guitar then changed his uniform and busked on the Grafton Street. It was there, on a grim February day, that he was approached by an English couple who ran an Irish Bar in Fuerteventura in the Canaries. They asked if he wanted a job singing in their bar.

Two weeks later he’d arrived on the island, and this was his home for nearly three years. He met the woman who would become his wife and they moved to the UK and played music together. His work as a musician has included work with Grammy Award winners K-Klass and twice Grammy nominated Dan Myers, Charlotte Church, as well as a host of other musicians on both sides of the Atlantic. He has written, recorded and released two solo albums and two band albums and performed, and continues to perform, consistently as a singer and guitarist in this time.

He was also David Tennant’s body double in Dr Who.

When his first child was born, Colum went to University to study writing and that started him on this trajectory. He's now living near Cardiff with his wife and two children, and teaching and writing and singing.

Title: The Tall Owl: And Other Stories

Author: Colum Sanson-Regan

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Short Stories

Publisher: Wordcatcher Publishing

Publication date: October 28 2020

Availability: Paperback, eBook

Price: PB £8.99 EB: £3.99