Filip Vukašin’s debut novel Modern Marriage is an absorbing contemporary Australian drama. Here, Fil reflects on his path to publication in the time of COVID.

COVID-19 and its flow-on effects have had a seismic impact on all of us, both individually and societally. It has been a hard time, whether dealing with the virus itself, lockdowns, mental health, financial strain or any other number of domino effects that have eventuated.

But in heartache and difficulty, there can sometimes be a nugget of hope or joy buried deep in the pain. It can be a gargantuan task to find, but if we do, it can make the pain seem bearable. For me, that joy was having my book published.

Were it not for this pandemic, I doubt I would have pursued getting published so soon. I began writing in 2018 on my phone during work lunch breaks as a means to avoid doom-scrolling through news and instead, pursue a creative endeavour. I would sit in a cafe or at a bus stop, have a takeaway coffee and spend between five and sixty minutes writing. It was blissful, restorative and had a positive impact on me. And that was enough. The thought of publication was a distant dream, like the idea of one day living on a yacht or learning a language from each continent.

But when life stopped, so did all my engagements. No socialising. No activities. Just home isolation and work. And with that change in tact, with the resulting opening in my time and freedom from too many obligations, I wondered if I should pursue getting my book published. I found that the Australian Society of Authors were running a pitching session via Zoom, instead of face-to-face. This meant I was able to attend the Sydney session even though I live in Melbourne.

This fortuitous development led me to pitch to my now agent, Gaby Naher of Left Bank Literary. In pre-COVID times, there’s no way I would have taken the time to fly to Sydney to pitch to her in person. But within a week of our Zoom call I had signed a contract with her and my manuscript went on submission. This rightly brightened my mood and distracted me from the gloom of the pandemic during Melbourne’s second wave and working as a doctor, where I was seeing the effects close-up in the community. Within weeks I had a publishing contract with Affirm Press, and the solitary time from lockdown meant I had more time to spend with my young family and write my second book. This is what I chose to focus on, instead of the anxiety, fear and worry I was experiencing in relation to the pandemic.

These last two years have been difficult on many fronts and if I could take away the pain and devastation this pandemic has brought on the world, of course I would. But if there’s one lesson in life I continue to learn, it’s that I can only try to control my own thoughts and actions. It’s a hard thing to practise, because I often think that I would love to be visiting booksellers, attending workshops and festivals and seeing my book physically in bookstores. When I follow these thoughts, I feel sorry for myself and wish things were different. But that would deny the truth that were it not for the pandemic, my book Modern Marriage wouldn’t be out in the world right now. And for that, I choose to be grateful.