Apocalyptic outbreaks of diseases have always been a recurring motif in literature since time immemorial. Margaret Atwood's 'The Year of the Flood', Thomas Mullen's 'The Last Town on Earth', Emily St. John Mandel's 'Station Eleven', William Maxwell's 'They Came Like Swallows', and the list goes on. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has also provided fodder to the authors and many have gone on to script novels (both fiction and non-fiction) around the deadly infection, which has killed 3.26 million people as of May 8th.
Meanwhile, an 18-year-old from Uttar Pradesh's Kanpur, Yash Tiwari, has become the youngest to write a fiction novel based on the coronavirus outbreak. Having authored his first book 'A Celebration In Tribulation' in a record time of 22 days at the age of 16, Tiwari wrote his second book 'Pandemic 2020: Rife of the Virus' in 30 days flat. He features in the 'India Book of Records' as well as the 'Asia Book of Records' for being the youngest author to write a fiction novel on COVID-19.
In a freewheeling chat with the Free Press Journal, Tiwari enthusiastically spoke about his latest book. Explaining the storyline of his fiction novel, he said, "The story is a globally-interconnecting tale, intriguingly blending majorly affected regions around the world through characters facing the severity of the pandemic. Yash is a blooming journalist in India, Huiqing is an impoverished boy in China, Alanna is a helpless doctor in the United States, and Terrell is a stranded traveller in Italy. It is based on a realistic setting and the catastrophic events which took place last year. It also features authentic and factual accounts of incidents like the banging of thalis and lighting of diyas in India." The book gives an immersive perspective on the atrocities, privation, and human loss during the time, he added.
When asked about his inspiration for the book, the 18-year-old said, "Believe it or not, I wasn't going to write a book on the pandemic. I was working on another project on a completely different topic. Then the lockdown was imposed. I saw the streets around my house were completely empty, shops were closed, I could even hear the leaves falling from the trees. It was quite different from anything I had ever experienced in my life. And whenever I turned on the television or scrolled through social media, it was all about the deaths recorded globally, it was about the frontline and medical workers, it was about the poor people who didn't have any resources or the stranded travellers and migrants. As an author, I felt it was my duty to give a tribute to the frontline and medical workers (or as I like to call them the warriors and sufferers) and to give them a place in our history. This inspired me to write the book."
Taking about the research for his book, Tiwari said it was quite a tricky process. "As I was writing the book, new information was coming out each day. The facts and figures were changing daily. For my research, I made use of news reports, interviews from around the world. The characters, storylines depicted in the book are an amalgamation of real accounts from around the world. Due to this sense of realism, the readers are able to connect with the book." Writing the book was psychologically draining, Tiwari said. "It was a very difficult time. Anything and everything I looked at or read felt taxing and gloomy. In the real world, everything was horrendous and outrageous, and putting it down on paper was an equally difficult task. I was constantly feeling emotional about every character and every loss."
'Pandemic 2020: Rife of the Virus' was published in May 2020, however, it is very much relevant even as we are reeling under a more destructive second COVID-19 wave, Tiwari said. When asked if he plans to write a sequel, he said, "Trust me, if I would get a coin for every time a person asks me this question, I would be a millionaire (laughs). However, to be honest, I am considering certain storylines which are very much related to the current scenario. I am conceptualising as of now."
When writing, Tiwari said he distances himself completely from the outside world. "I keep writing for the entire day. Like most people binge-watch shows on Netflix, I binge-write. I get invested in the story and become the character," he said. Speaking about how he deals with writer’s block, Tiwari said he prepares a proper outline before starting to actually write the story. "It took me a couple of hours to prepare an outline for my latest book. However, it is different for different authors as all of them have varied writing processes," he added.
Tiwari, a huge George R. R. Martin fan (author of 'A Song of Ice and Fire' which was adapted into the popular series 'Game of Thrones'), owes his success to his supportive family. "I have been very fortunate because my parents have given me the freedom to pursue all that I wanted. They have encouraged me and pushed me to do everything I feel creatively passionate about," he said.
The 18-year-old is also a motivational speaker and is frequently invited to deliver talks and sessions on diverse social and psychological subject matters to a young audience. "I have delivered thought-provoking sessions (webinars) all around the world, some of which were in regions like Nigeria, Cameron, Canada, Ghana, New York City, etc. I have also delivered a talk at the United Nation 75th Anniversary International Youth Day Celebration (2020) organized by the UN volunteers from Nigeria, alongside speakers from Iraq, Congo, Australia, etc," he added.