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Article  •  1 May 2020


Characters in the time of coronavirus

Ever wonder how your favourite book characters would be navigating these challenging times? Wonder no more…

LOLA QUINLAN in the time of coronavirus by THE TRIP OF A LIFETIME author Monica McInerney
Lola Quinlan, aged 87, is not known as an obedient person. But she’s a woman of great common sense. When the new rules of living were announced – #stayhome #keepyourdistance – she got organised. Her shopping list of essentials was brief.




Her housemate Margaret (a widow in her early 70s) was in Queensland visiting family when the lockdown was announced. Her daughter insisted she stay there. Home alone, Lola knew she’d have to be resourceful. She decided she’d fill her long quiet hours by recalling one happy memory a day.

But it turns out there hasn’t been much time for reminiscing. The fancy laptop her son Jim and granddaughters Bett and Carrie gave her for Christmas has become her lifeline. She hosts twice-weekly Zoom calls with her friends around the Clare Valley. (She’s discovered her favourite silver cape looks particularly striking on-screen.) She’s taken up online Scrabble, calling herself LockedDownLola and playing more than thirty games a day.

Her seven young great-grandchildren send daily videos. She texts requests to their parents each night: nursery rhymes, favourite poems, songs. The next day she receives their enthusiastic performances. The parents optimistically call it ‘on-line schooling’. Lola calls it her Coronavirus Jukebox.  

At night, if she wakes around 3am (as she often does) and dark thoughts creep in (as they often do), she listens to Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter, or to Classic FM. Music helps her. It always has.

She’s reminded every day of how kind people can be. Jim arranges weekly grocery deliveries. Bett and Carrie text or phone several times a day. Her neighbours call out from her front gate each morning, checking she has everything she needs.

‘These hard days will pass,’ she tells them all cheerily. ‘Better times lie ahead.’ She secretly hopes she’ll still be alive when those times come. She’s always believed in hope.

JANE AUSTEN in the time of coronavirus by JANE IN LOVE author Rachel Givney
What would Jane Austen make of coronavirus?

Hard to answer, because in my novel Jane in Love, Jane Austen has just arrived in the 21st century herself, so she may simply think all this is normal. But once she deduces that standing six feet apart and stage-three restrictions sit outside the ordinary for the modern-day, Jane would make good use of lockdown.

Jane Austen was the original social distancer. She preferred walking and reading to balls and parties anyway. She would revel in this extra time alone, reading, thinking and writing, no longer needing excuses for not meeting with insufferable acquaintances for tea, or enduring a picnic with the parson and his wife.

After a time, however, Jane would begin to miss interaction with the world, for it would deny her the opportunity to mine people’s behaviour for comedy. The toilet paper stockpiling, the isolation romances, the failed home-schooling of children, Jane would want to observe it all. So she would engage with the outside world again, if only for the material.

She might struggle with video chat at first, having never used a computer, but she would teach herself, for her intelligence was legendary, and she would be joining virtual house parties before long. Jane would watch from afar, smiling, taking everything down, arranging people’s absurd behaviour into new material for her next novel.

On a serious note, she would truly despair over the lack of toilet paper. It’s one of the luxuries she delighted in when she first arrived in the 21st century.

CHEGWIN TOFFLE in the time of coronavirus by TOFFLE TOWERS author Tim Harris
Chegwin Toffle has the luxury of owning and running a hotel. Being a creative ten-year-old boy, he would back his ability to think of ways to entertain his guests during lockdown. He would likely put on a talent show in the hotel’s lobby or create exciting games for his patrons to play such as upside-down dodgeball. There is no doubt the gravity-free dining room at Toffle Towers would get quite a work out – everyone knows how appealing food is when you’re stuck indoors. Thankfully, Chegwin has a gun chef – Pepper Perry – who would dish up amazing cuisine to the floating patrons.

The shortage of toilet paper would be a problem for Chegwin, especially considering Toffle Towers is constantly packed with guests. The young manager would brainstorm ways to reduce the need for toilet paper: liquid diets, invent-your-own-loo-paper competitions, asking guests to use some of the old newspapers from 1983 (there are plenty of those lying around).

Overall, lockdown and isolation wouldn’t change too much for Chegwin Toffle. It would simply give him an excuse to daydream a bunch of new ideas for his beloved Toffle Towers.

MAGGIE COTTON in the time of coronavirus by MAGGIE’S GOING NOWHERE author Rose Hartley
A few nights before lockdown, Maggie goes to her mother’s house for dinner. Finding the locks changed again, she calls through the letterbox, desperate for Moroccan chicken. Her mother, dressed in boilersuit and rubber gloves, shouts at her to go away. ‘You’re a vector of disease.’ Valerie offers to foster Dot the cat during the crisis, though, since Maggie won’t be able to afford the best tuna anymore and she’s ‘concerned about her granddaughter’. 

Maggie, assuming she’ll be stood down from her job, tries to apply for the JobSeeker allowance, excited that she’ll finally be earning minimum wage. But not only can she not get through on the phone, she’s appalled to discover from her boss that she is in fact an essential worker, since the homeless rate is not going to go down anytime soon and the charity will still be operating.

‘Of all life’s horrors, to be an essential worker is surely the worst,’ Maggie opines to Jen, a nurse.

She texts all of her exes to see which one will let her stay with him. They all ignore her except for the unemployed musician, who texts back to ask if her caravan is big enough to fit his keyboard, since he’s just been kicked out by his housemates for playing the ukulele in the shower. Finally, Maggie asks Jen if she can park her caravan in her backyard for the duration of lockdown.

Her most pressing concern, however, is the fact that she’s effectively been banned from having sex. The injustice of the new lockdown laws – which obviously discriminate against polyamorous people – does not seem to make an impression on Jen, however, who points out that Maggie is technically not polyamorous, she just cheats on people.

‘Well not anymore. My finger is going to get worn out from all the masturbating.’

‘So buy a vibrator,’ Jen says.

‘With what money?’

Jen sighs, puts down the cloth mask she’s sewing, and retrieves her second-favourite vibrator from the bedroom, an eggplant-shaped feat of engineering. She boils it in water and vinegar, scrubs it with soap, and finally coats it in hand sanitiser, before handing it to Maggie. ‘I don’t want it back,’ she says. ‘And I made a mask for you.’

CHARACTERS of THE CEDAR TREE in the time of coronavirus by Nicole Alexander
At the first mention of a pandemic, Mr Truby would be quick to ensure notices were nailed to trees advising the property was closed to all but essential workers. Boundary riders and stockmen would be dispersed to far-flung posts and told not to return to the station homestead until advised to do so. The men’s quarters would be segregated to conform to social distancing requirements, and despite Mr Truby’s niece’s protestations her beloved falcons would be destroyed. In Mr Truby’s opinion one couldn’t risk the keeping of these birds for fear they might transmit the virus. After all, the plague itself was caused by rats and Miss Schaefer’s pets were fed mice daily.

Faced with cousins Brandon, Sean and Maggie O’Riain arriving on the property unannounced, Mr Truby would tell them to leave, at gunpoint. But after he learned the boys were cedar cutters, and therefore useful, he would instead lock the cousins in a hut. Food, water and firewood would be delivered daily to the shack, and the slaughterer McCauley would stand guard outside to ensure no-one escaped. When the cousins weren’t complaining about their rights as free citizens or arguing with McCauley about the need for fresh air and exercise, they would bicker and fight amongst themselves for the fortnight they were detained. Eventually the religious and personal differences that separated the cousins would be ironed out by their fierce debates. On release Brandon and Sean would set to work felling Mr Truby’s cedar trees and, at the end of the pandemic, leave the property to open a timber mill which they would run happily until old age. Maggie, who’d received a thorough education in the fourteen days of captivity by listening to her cousins argue, would be offered the role of companion to Miss Schaefer and live in the big house for the rest of her life.

NIT BOY in the time of coronavirus by Tristan Bancks (to be published in July)
Social distancing is leading to a rapid decline in the spread of head lice. Great news for parents and teachers who have been waging war on these innocent creatures for decades. Disastrous for Lewis Snow, the kid with the worst case of nits in world history, and his thousands of beloved pets or ‘head mice’. 

Lewis has always been identified with nits. When you think Lewis, you think nits. And vice versa. They’re like his superpower. They keep him company, they provide him with his favourite pastime – scratching – and sometimes they speak to him. Pre-COVID-19, Lewis was selling nits in the school playground for a tidy profit to any kid who needed a day off school. But isolation has created a black hole in his cash-flow projections.

Meanwhile Keith, the Head Louse on Lewis’s head, won’t stand for social-distancing. He thinks coronavirus is a hoax and wants to see human society, the economy and, especially, schools reopened immediately, at any cost. But, with no end in sight, Keith has had a team of nit scientists in the lab working night and day on two projects to allow the nits of Lewisville to pivot:

1. Zoom nits, who spread via teleconferencing.

2. Jumping nits. He wants his son, Ned, to be the world’s first-ever jumping head louse, allowing nits to leap 1.5 metres in a single bound and spread farther and faster than ever before. Distancing could be the spark to see his lifelong dream realised.

Parents and teachers don’t stand a chance.

CHARACTERS of THE BANKSIA BAY BEACH SHACK in the time of coronavirus by Sandie Docker
Due to their natural isolation and lack of population, the people of Banksia Bay have so far not been struck down by any COVID-19 cases. They are in lockdown though, and Laura is documenting the whole thing. She isn’t writing an article about the medical side of the pandemic though, her colleagues in the city have that covered. She’s focusing on the how her eclectic little community of Banksia Bay is handling the lockdown and coming together; how Virginia and Yvonne are being ‘flexible’ with isolation rules, checking on everyone in town and running a grocery delivery service in the Bodhi bus (including one roll of toilet paper per house); how Charlotte is putting in some long hours at the hospital in Ocean Heights, to ensure, as it’s the only hospital in the area, they are ready for any onslaught that might come, yet comes home at night to check on the elderly in town; how Ian and Trish are putting together care packages of puzzles and books to deliver with the Bodhi bus run. And every Sunday afternoon, Laura is recording, with the help of Ian and his camera, how the people of Banksia Bay line the streets with barbecues and picnic blankets in their driveways, so they can all come together-apart in this crazy time.

ALICE-MIRANDA in the time of coronavirus by Jacqueline Harvey
We are currently living through one of the most challenging times of our lives and there has been more than one occasion when I have asked myself, ‘What would Alice-Miranda do?’ Surely she’d have this sorted! Being the perpetually positive child that she is, I can imagine she’d be spending most of her time thinking about others – her family, friends, teachers and people in the villages, both at home and near her boarding school.

Lockdown with the family would provide opportunities for baking and gardening, board games and lots of reading as well as working out how she could lend a helping hand to people in need. Given her parents own a grocery and retail empire, she’d have everything she needed at her fingertips. But Alice-Miranda wouldn’t just be organising things from afar, she’d be on the ground in the warehouses – with appropriate social distancing of course – helping put together care packages and the like.

She’d also be writing lots of letters – I think the residents of the local aged-care homes would be a big priority. There would be Zoom catch ups with her school friends and those further afield, like Neville in Spain and Britt in Norway – and she wouldn’t leave anyone out. Not even Caprice, who, despite being particularly tricky at times, will always be included if Alice-Miranda has any say in it. 

Perhaps she would set up some Zoom cooking classes – with Caprice’s mother, the celebrity chef Venetia Baldini, who could swap recipes with Dolly Oliver, the Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones’s family cook, and Mrs Smith, the school cook at Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale. I can imagine there would be long horse rides with her parents on the estate. Her naughty pony Bonaparte still needs his regular exercise – lest he become even naughtier. One thing I know for sure it that Alice-Miranda would never be bored. She’s recently taken up the drums – so although she might be banished to the attic for practice, she’d have plenty of time to hone her skills.

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