Monday, August 3rd, Month 6 of our Covid-19 Experience.

I thought it might be a good time to give a little update on our Covid-19 journey as we are now entering our 6th month since lock-down began, and the numbers are rising again.

The Numbers

Deaths rates remain low with just 8 yesterday but it was Sunday and the numbers are always low over the weekends. There were 74 on Friday and we will see how many there are today.

When I last wrote we were getting close to “our” magic number of less than 500 new cases per day. Yesterday, there were 743, and this number has been slowly rising over the past week.

Globally, there have been over 18 million cases and almost 700,000 deaths.

A key hot-spot is still the USA, where the virus is raging with around 50,000 new cases and 1000 deaths a day. Brazil, India, Russia, South Africa, Mexico and Peru are still countries that don’t seem to have the virus under control.

Numbers are rising in Spain (who seem to have stopped publishing their numbers over the past few days) Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Australia.

The highest death rate per million population is still the good old UK though, at 680.

Spain is 608, Italy 582, Sweden 568, USA 478, France 464, Brazil 443. It’s still qualified by differences in testing, case definitions and accuracy of data. Belgium remains an outlying anomaly at 849 per million.

The News

So, people started going on holiday again after “air bridges” were created between different countries. There was uproar when this was “closed” with Spain after just a couple of weeks due to increasing numbers. People returning from Spain were required to go into 2 weeks quarantine on their return causing carnage at this end!

In the North West some restrictions that had been lifted have been re-imposed and people are no longer allowed to meet in each others homes or gardens. Bizarrely, they are still allowed to go the pub, or go to work and shielding has officially ended! It’s all about juggling public safety with the economy. We seem to have moved from a herd immunity, to a stay at home save lives, to stay alert save lives to a work and spend and bugger the consequences strategy.

Masks are now compulsory in shops and public indoor spaces. That caused a massive uproar too. Oh please, just get over yourselves. Yes, there are some people for whom this is difficult (it’s really tough for the hearing impaired in particular), but for the majority it is not. Yes, it’s hot and uncomfortable but really? I love the thing I saw on social media – if you don’t like wearing a mask, you’re going to hate a ventilator!

But I know its tough! Businesses are closing or downsizing and people are losing their jobs in the thousands every day. 

Melbourne and the state of Victoria in Australia have declared a disaster so that the army can enforce strict lock down and curfew rules. Honestly, it still might come to that here. It might have to. Some people are acting as if it’s all over. Going on holiday. Shopping. Drinking in pubs. Eating out in restaurants, Flocking to beaches and beauty spots. Partying.

I know we are technically “allowed to” but for God’s sake! Where is your common sense? Look what is happening to the numbers! IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT YOU!

But, of course, for every one who is behaving like an idiot, there is another poor soul who is still terrified to leave their home. I feel for the previously “shielded”  who have gone from being locked inside their homes to being told they have to go back to work, practically overnight!

The New Ways of Life

So what about us? We’re some where in the middle I suppose. We’ve been seeing a few friends and family in our garden or theirs. When we can we meet outdoors rather than by Zoom, we do. We still get our main groceries delivered weekly, but we’ve been to a couple of shops once or twice for “essentials” (fully masked up of course). We even had a pint outside a country pub we came across on a bike ride. But, generally, we have continued to spend most of our time at home, going out just to exercise and watching movies in the evenings (we’ve burned through virtually every box-set we want to watch).

We are counting the days to our journey to Barbados. It still seems rather precarious. As the numbers go up the airport check-in and the flight feels more risky. I’ve ordered us a couple of plastic visors for the airport, and maybe even the flight.

Barbados have been testing everyone who arrives in the country, and in the past 2 weeks 24 people on incoming flights have tested positive and placed in their quarantine centre. 12 were nurses on a flight from Ghana and the others were returning nationals from the USA and UK.  I would imagine the majority were form the USA but I don’t know. The locals are getting anxious, understandably so. But, what will they do without tourists? The economy depends on it.

Personally, I think everyone should be tested before they get on the plane. At the moment, I don’t think its compulsory and you can be tested on arrival. However, at the moment the test results take 24 to 48 hours to come back and are required 72 hours before travel. It’s still possible to catch it within those 72 hours, especially in a crowded airport! Today, we heard about a new 90 minute test. That could work if everyone had that done before they got on a flight. It would mean longer check-in times but could be more effective?

Anyway, everything seems to be changing on a daily basis at the moment. By the end of September they could be better, but they could just as easily be worse again. We will see …

An interview with Michael Andrews, author of Children of the Sun

J: We’re here today to celebrate and talk about your latest book, the last in the series of The Alex Hayden Chronicles, Children of the Sun. Let’s start by talking about that.

J: So, how does it feel to have finally, finished the last book in the Alex Hayden Chronicles?

 M: Mixed, to be honest. Relief, sadness, and excitement.

Relief that I’ve finally finished it. At one point three years ago, it looked as if it wasn’t going to happen due to a technical disaster when I was writing Dragonfire and almost lost all my work.

Sadness that a six-year chapter of my writing life is coming to an end.

Excitement about picking up other projects that have been on the back burner for a long time.

J: Are you happy with how it all ended, and do you think your readers will be?

M: Yes and no.

I’m happy with how the plot came together and how all the loose ends were tied in a very natural and un-contrived way. That should please my readers too.  

I was unsure whether I should have had just one more battle at the end, but I have said from the start that I didn’t want the series to become too Twighlightesque, so I am happy with how I left it.

 J: Is this definitely the end? Will we ever hear any more about Alex and his friends?

M: It is definitely the end of the story at that point in history in terms of the fantasy story. But there will always be opportunities for prequels in terms of revisiting Alex’s past life, given that he has lived for over 1000 years! This is something I have been asked about by my readers and is always an option. However, I have no current plans to this as I have already started working on my next project.

 J: The latest book, in my opinion, is the goriest of the series. The books are aimed at a young adult audience. How do you think this level of violence will sit with them, and possibly even their parents?

M: I knew this might come up. Young adults for me are mid-teen and upwards. I believe much of the violence is left to the imagination of the reader and that this is not the same as seeing it on a screen, be that in a movie or a computer game. I don’t think it is any worse that the violence young people would be exposed to in the average 15 rated movie or computer game. It adds vital authenticity to the character of Alex – he is a vampire after all!

Besides, most of my long terms fans that take the trouble to reach out to me tend to be over 18 in fact. You could argue that the series seems to appeal more to a more mature audience than the typical young adult cohort.

J: I noticed a hidden reference to the village that we both live in in the Children of the Sun, and some of the characters are strangely familiar. Is this my imagination, or are you deliberately giving a secret nod to people and places that you know in your books?

M: From when I first started writing, friends who reading my books often asked if they could be represented in them. So, I do give some of my characters the names of people I know, but not necessarily their personalities. Because there are a lot of characters in the series, this technique helps me to keep track of them all.

With regard to the familiar “location”, I have always wanted a character to be placed away from Blackpool in a different type of environment. It was a playful act on my part to decide to locate one in my own village.

 J: Some of your characters have very unusual names. How do you select the names of your characters?

M: There are a few in particular that I think you might be referring to. Y’cart, is a friend’s name spelt backwards and Rivkah Picar is actually my editors name in different languages, I often google names to find ones that are relevant for period and place. For example, Clothar Pfaff is a Germanic name that means priest and Eirwen was a name I just liked that popped up on one of these searches.

J: The Alex Hayden Chronicles is a very complex story with multiple characters and plot-lines that twist and turn throughout the series. Did you always know how it would end and how all the characters would relate to each other (I’m trying to avoid any spoilers here), or did you just let it unfold as it went along?

M: I knew most of the big things.  I wrote the end of the series while I was writing the first book, Under A Blood Moon and I always know the beginning and end of each book. Everything in between is just a journey that unfolds as the characters react to events. I love these journeys with my characters. That is the most enjoyable and fun part of writing for me.  

J: Is that how you write in general? Letting the plot develop rather than having it all planned out at the beginning?

M: Yes. It allows me to introduce minor threads and characters that may not have appeared if I had plotted out every detail. One of the most loved characters form my debut novel, For the Lost Soul, only appears as an afterthought in an early chapter.

J: Clearly, this is a young adult SFF series. Is this the only genre that you work in? Would you ever consider writing for the adult SFF market?

M: Although I have written in other genres, I definitely have a leaning towards fantasy and the paranormal. For the Lost Soul, is actually aimed at a slightly older audience. It wouldn’t be suitable for anyone under the age of 15. Coincidentally, I am currently working on a sequel to For the Lost Soul, with plans for a trilogy. I also have other adult paranormal projects on the back-burner.

J: Now some questions about you.

J: When did you first want to be writer and what inspired you?

M: I was 14 and a GCSE English assignment was to write the start of a novel. A TV series at the time (1985) called V was my inspiration.  My novel was a version of the V story that was set in the UK. I have written ever since and always dreamed of publishing. The Amazon self-publishing platform helped me to turn dream into a reality

J: What do you like to read and who are your favourite authors?

M: I like fantasy and Science Fiction, particularly stories with mythical twists. My favourite authors are Raymond E Feist (Magician), David Eddings (The Belgariad), Matthew Reilly (Jack West Series) and Orson Scott Card (Enders Game).

J: What is the first book that made you cry?

M: Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E Feist and The Unlikely Ones by Mary Brown

J: What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?

M: Fairie Tale by Raymond E Feist

J: Have you got any themes and messages that you want to get across in your writing?

M: I mostly write for pleasure. Writing for me is simply an enjoyable creative release form my very factual day job as a Business Analyst.

However, bullying, and self-harm and suicide prevention in young people are subjects that are important to me and I have written about them. My poetry collection, The Empty Chair, has an anti-bullying theme.

J: What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

M: On a trip to London I visited St Paul’s Cathedral and asked to have access to the private chapel where two of my characters in the For the Lost Soul meet for the first time. I was given special access to the room and was so moved and excited that, later that evening, I messaged Raymond E. Feist to ask him if he had ever had a similar experience. He said he had but never one as exciting as mine!

J: What is your writing Kryptonite?

M: The telly.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

M: I am a member of a small group of fellow writers called JAMS Publishing. As well as working together to support other aspiring writers, we also meet once a month where we read and critique a short piece we have prepared based on a specific prompt. We give each other regular feedback and support with all our projects and have worked on some joint ones.

J: So, what’s next for Michael Andrews? What’s your next book going to be about and when can we expect it?

M: I am currently focusing on completing the Writers Bureau Creative Writing course to help me to hone my skills and further improve the quality of my writing. I am also working on the sequel to For the Lost Soul, A Soul Reclaimed. I don’t want to put myself under pressure to set a deadline to complete this. I just want to allow myself to enjoy the journey.  

However, I will have a special surprise for Alex fans around about Christmas time.

The Children of the Sun is available on Amazon at £2.99 for the Kindle version and £8.99 for the paperback.