A book we all need to read right now as we still come to terms with the chaos and uncertainty the past few years have brought. This book is exceptional and I am so pleased to share a guest post from author Jeremy Williams! This blog post is thoughtful and reflective and so to is the book, so read the blog and then buy the book!
Too soon? Or right on time? Why I set Max Counts to A Million during the pandemic
I remember quite distinctly, in March of 2020, hearing the news and the penny dropping. We were on the verge of something historically significant, something life changing. We were all about to live through events that I’d only read about in books – a global pandemic.
Books would be written about this one too. Commentators would write about the political response, or about how new viruses emerge. The race to create a vaccine would get its books and probably a movie or two. But for us as a family, history was going to be more ordinary. It was going to be about school, shopping, and what to tell the children.
I watched my own children, aged 7 and 9 at the time, coming to terms with the closure of school and the readjustment to home learning and lockdown. It occurred to me that they, and a whole generation of children, had their own perspective on the pandemic. They would carry this experience with them into their adult lives. They would tell their children and their grandchildren about it. I wanted to capture this experience for them, in a book that was about them and for them.
This thought stuck with me through that first lockdown. I cycled through various ideas for a lockdown novel, before settling on an idea that had been in a notebook for a while. I’d told my children a story about a boy counting to a million at one point, off the top of my head, probably while waiting for a train or something similar. Neither of them remember it, so I’d obviously liked it more than they did and I scribbled it down later. When I thought about the story and how long it would actually take to count to a million, I couldn’t find a setting that made sense. It couldn’t be done in a summer holiday, which is what I had initially suggested. It didn’t really seem plausible for a child to count to a million, and I shelved it. But with the big pause of lockdown, you’d have all the time you needed.
Counting to a million gave the story a central quest. The book could explore the strangeness of lockdown, the uncertainty, the family dynamics – and the positives too, the new forms of community, and the everyday heroism of front line workers. But it would also have a compelling story that would keep children reading, a resolution and its moment of triumph.
There was no great plan for the book. It percolated away in the background while I was doing other things. Then one day I woke up at 5am with vivid sense that this was a first person story. I went downstairs and made some coffee, opened the laptop and started writing. The character of Max introduced himself to me as I typed, and by the time the rest of the family woke up and came down to breakfast, I was two chapters in and on my way.
Of course, a lot more has happened since I wrote the book. The pandemic dragged on. There were more lockdowns to come. Does anyone still want to read about it now, two years later? Reactions to the book suggest that they do. A number of reviewers and readers have said that the book encouraged them to reflect. Reading it aloud with their children brought up new questions and conversations. There’s been an opportunity to talk it over.
I think there is real value in this. In the rush to get back to normal, we shouldn’t forget that children have lived through something that has affected them deeply. We may not know exactly how, with every family having its own experience. It’s important to make space to talk about this, even if it is just to read Max’s story and know that they were not alone, that others had similar feelings. And if you can laugh about it too, and find the positives, and find gratitude and moments of victory in the midst of it too, as Max does, then that’s even better.
I hope that children see their view of the pandemic reflected in Max’s story. And I hope that the story endures, as something that can be read in the future as an insight into a turbulent time. Not many people have counted to a million, as Max tells his readers. But his lockdown experiences are much more universal – the story of a generation of children who have lived through something historic.