Social Distancing in 'The Deleted'

STORIES BEHIND THE STORIES – Possible spoilers

I started ‘The Deleted’ last summer, put it down for a little while, then finished it in February. I say that straight off the bat, because a couple of people if I wrote it with COVID-19 in mind. Not at all. Hadn’t paid it any attention when I typed THE END, and it had yet to reach the UK at that point. And yet, there are some parallels to social distancing, which wasn’t a phrase I (we) knew at the time, so you won’t find it in there…

The main plot of the novel centres around the internet-based computer game of the title. The premise of the game is that you walk through villages and towns, streets and alleyways, and the whole point is to not touch anyone. To not rub shoulders with a passer by. If you knock them at all they become agitated, and if you touch them too much they delete. To do well in the game you keep your distance. Sounds oddly prophetic now.

I guess when I was looking at a fear to exploit in this book, I was thinking of the idea of personal space. When the characters in the game ‘Delete’ then they come for you in real life and invade your space, and possibly worse. Personal space is a big deal at the minute – all two metres of it – and there are some uncomfortable moments in the book where that is violated. More uncomfortable than intended, I guess, given the current climate. There’s not much scarier than the combination of other people and an invisible threat.

Coronavirus aside, there are other points I’d like to mention about ‘The Deleted’ in a ‘story behind the story’ way. The book is from the perspective of mum-of-two, Laura Chance. The behaviour of her estranged husband, Martin, is one of the things she has to deal with. However, for the first month of this story’s existence, and probably for the first five chapters, the gender roles were the other way around! Martin was going to be the character raising two teens. Laura was going to be the wayward parent with all the problems. Martin was going to find some solace at work with a character called Nel…

So why change it? I think it was because as it went on, Martin was basically a version of me, and I wanted to guard against that. Plus, I’d written a couple of female-led stories in ‘A Very Bad Year’ – MOG in particular – that got me thinking about a mother’s bond with her kids. I opted for the swap, the switcheroo. I probably didn’t do justice to being a mum, in the way I might have been able to from a dad perspective, but I still think the novel is richer for having a female protagonist. I think I made the right call.

Another thing. I mentioned a character called Nel a couple of paragraphs ago. She became Sean in the novel. However, at first it was a switch from Nel to Niall. Sean was called Niall all the way through writing, probably until the last two chapters! Then I remembered that one of my main characters in ‘Corner House’, Coop, had the first name of Niall, and I thought that it needed a change. It was then a big ‘Find and Replace’ job – Sean for Niall! All good in the end!

At the moment I can’t think of any other little insights for ‘The Deleted’, but if I do I’ll post them.

For now, stay safe, and stay out of the way of other people – in real life as well as fictitious and sinister computer games…

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