A new book titled Love in Times of Coronavirus by Julia Summerland - a pseudonym - is set in Luxembourg during the first half of 2020 and describes the adventures of dating during the lockdown.
As the author of this anthology is elusive and rather mysterious, RTL Today spoke with publisher Katarina Grgic from Frieling-Verlag Berlin about the themes and the challenges of releasing a book during a pandemic.
How has COVID impacted the publishing sector?
Katarina Grgic: The first serious impact from COVID19 was felt by us in the publishing sector by the cancellation of the Leipzig Book Fair in March 2020 at short notice. This was later also followed by the cancellation of the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2020. All our efforts were in vain and the financial losses inevitable. Much more painful was the loss of the important presentation opportunity for our new publications. These events are crucial in providing new business relationships within the book industry.
Lockdown luckily had only a small lasting impact on our publishing house, sales through the traditional booksellers came to a standstill, true - and they the booksellers were impacted particularly seriously - our losses were able to be dampened by the uptick in online book sales.
Has it been a good or bad time for writers in general?
KG: If this peculiar time period was or still is a good or a bad time for writers in general will only be clear in one or two years. It will take that long for real analysis to be done.
We were able to observe two aspects. COVID-19 changed the focus of interest in the first three months. We needed to observe and understand the developments as they happened, with the aim to determine whether it is merely a temporary phenomenon, or a a complete re-orientation.
The variety in topics listed in our editor’s program has always been a warranty for satisfactory sales figures. In contrary to the big publishing houses, we were already thinking broadly. Since the founding of our publishing house 37 years ago, we ensured that we did not simply run behind the general taste of the masses, but on the contrary to cover many small niches of interest, and so to serve many different reading interests.
During the first three months of COVID-19 a strange reading pattern reigned, dividing into two reader groups: the pessimistic realists, who ordered books in the themes of dystopia or tomes critical of society, and those refusing to face a new reality. These readers wanted to evade the daily COVID-19 reports with 'belles lettres' and 'poesie'.
Concerning the pleasure to write and publish, this desire seems to have been given an extra push during the lockdown. The increase in daily manuscript sendings was an explicit indicator for this. Many of the authors seem to have re-discovered their once started never finished or forgotten texts, others seem to have been more creatively active during social distancing. The amount of diversity in topics is huge.
Why did you decide to publish 'Love in Times...' and how was the idea for the book brought to your offices?
KG: The book title alone, when the first example of the manuscript was submitted attracted attention. In the middle of the powerlessness brought to ample parts of Europe through lockdown, “Love in Times of Coronavirus” sounded quite surreal and paradoxical, as especially thrilling and interesting.
The introduction read:
"In times of Corona Virus, I enrolled on the online partnership platform to combat my loneliness since my long-time boyfriend left me. I am meeting diverse men…”
This sounded as if someone would go for a pleasant walk at the frontline in the middle of the war, or play Russian roulette with a fully loaded pistol. We absolutely wanted to read the manuscript.
Who is the story about?
KG: The author who writes under pseudonym, who was recommended by another author of our publishing house, presented the draft manuscript several weeks later for examination. The manuscript presented a courageous, intimate view into the soul of the author, who stands as a representative for many people longing for vicinity and partnership.
The emotional bandwidth reaching from thoughtfulness, despair and anger, to hope, joy and longing, describes online-dating in a new light, freed from its stigma – totally without exaggerated sentimentality.
Having had a noteworthy number of dates in times of lockdown due to coronavirus alone was worth a report. The written documentation of these dates convinced with a delightful honesty, intensity and wit. The uniqueness of the situation is described: the empty streets in Luxembourg, the flourishing nature, the beauty of Luxembourg’s landscapes, and the silence. The air became clear. The farsightedness was astounding. The nature reconquered back its place from the frenetic human beings in speeding cars or air planes. There were no more air planes. The bicycle tours which were rode with love, accompanied by the ‘love with a capital L’, demonstrate a sensitive view in a picturesque landscape.
It is the affectionate description of eating cherries directly from the tree in Schengen at the Mosel River and the blaze of colour of the flowers in the park of Mondorf-les-Bains, followed by Mountainbiking in the Red Rock Area and wild animal park and tree houses, ravens in Pissange and Mausketty in Burmerange, aircraft bomb in Consdorf, the train tunnel converted into a bicycle path, the trainstation in Clémency converted as Café, the castles in Sanem and Moutfort, and many more. Two people lovingly get closer while biking together during months of bike rides. This is an astounding love story.
We wanted to make this manuscript available to a large public.
The rest is history.
What tips do you have for budding authors?
KG: Life does not always write the best stories. However, life writes the most original, the most impressive and the most honest stories. Writing down these stories or to use them as plot for a fictional take, was for many famous writers the first and decisive step of their career as a writer. Who is gifted with the gift of telling a story, will sooner or later follow this call. Follow means, to remain open for inspiration, and not to search desperately for the one extraordinary book idea. The books which are still waiting to be written, will find their authors….
What do you look for in a 'good book'?
KG: There is no universal recipe for a good book. However there are two fundamental criteria, to make a book stand out from the huge mass of the already published books.
One aspect concerns the thematic direction, which contains something new, unexpected, extraordinary and unequaled in the essence of the action concept.
The topic on its own doesn’t need to be original. The literary designing of this topic should however leave a remaining impression with the reader through its authentic interpretation, it should irritate or surprise or confirm or reward him/her.
A second aspect is the narrative originality. In general this is a bigger challenge.
With successful books, which put the main focus of the art of the narration in form of a tangible drawing of a figure and scene, the proper happening is secondary.
Here it is about a strong atmosphere, that the storyteller needs to create, to connect with the reader emotionally. The reader needs to be projected into the action, to make the scenes described in the book come alive in their head... in form of lively images. These are the books you don’t put down.
Where can people buy the book?