The COVID Coincidence or How I Didn’t Predict a Worldwide Pandemic

Photo by KOBU Agency on Unsplash

“You caused COVID-19!”

While it’s nice to hear from a reader – hint, hint – I was slightly taken aback at blunt opening to a message I received back in March.

“Dan” (not his real name, or maybe it is and I’m throwing you off the scent) went on – “In Horses of Doom you said there would be a plague spread from Wuhan!”

Dan, it turned out, was only joking about me having caused the pandemic, but he did think what he’d raised was an amazing coincidence – that it was as though I’d peered into the future and woven that into my work.

I’d already noticed the similarity between the origins of COVID-19 and the start of Horses of Doom. But Dan’s message made me check the start of that novel again, to remind myself exactly what I’d written.

Dan and I were right, the opening of the novel features a plague beginning in Wuhan, China. But we were both wrong to think that was the only similarity. In my re-read I found not just one, but five.

Foresight? Fivesight!

Here are the opening paragraphs of the Prologue:

It had been two days since Xiu heard the sound of hoofbeats in the street. The noise very much out of place, for their apartment was in a particularly built-up part of Wuhan and a horse was the last thing you would expect to find in the city road outside. It was after that sound that her father had taken ill.

At first Ba felt nauseous. Then came a fever. Mama thought they should take him to the clinic. Ba was a big man and it took two adults even to get him out of bed. But many others in the building were also sick and no one could assist. Mama called the doctor but he was too busy to come to the house. Ba swore that he would be fine. But his fever intensified.

A day later Mama developed a cough. She insisted that she tend to her husband and to Changming, the neighbour’s young son who they were minding while his parents were working in a different part of China. But her lungs seized up and within hours she could hardly stand. Xiu helped her into bed beside Ba and brought them soup and water. But the soup went cold and the water went untouched.

For the record then, with both COVID-19 and Horses of Doom we have: a virulent new illness, that originates in Wuhan in China, transmitted to humans from an animal, the first symptoms are a fever and a cough followed by lungs seizing up, and the symptoms don’t show until after two days.

Those aren’t just similarities, they’re more akin to parallels. Maybe Dan’s joke wasn’t such a jest after all. Maybe I had actually tapped into future events while crafting that story!

Pause. Wait for reader to realise that this time it’s me who’s joking. Realise jokes about worldwide pandemics are in bad taste. Plow ahead nonetheless.

Conspiracy Wary

I wrote Horses of Doom almost ten years ago. I actually finished The Mythic, then wrote the first draft of Doom and went back and tweaked parts of the first book, now better understanding the characters and their arcs. The publication of the book pre-dates the pandemic by about eight years.

There were claims that other authors predicted the COVID-19 pandemic – like Dean Koontz in The Eyes of Darkness and Sylvia Browne in End of Days: Predictions and prophecies about the end of the world. In fact, the specifics of what was in these books, and the specifics of the pandemic, proved not to have many, or any, similarities.

Just as with those other books, the parallels between COVID-19 and Horses of Doom tend to weaken once you throw some light upon them.

For example, the animal in my novel is the Horse of Disease. It also spreads other illnesses with different symptoms – the illness that resembles COVID-19 just happens to be the first one mentioned. And, there’s that fact that Disease is a unicorn which, when I last checked, do not exist.

The Wuhan parallel, however, is dead on. COVID-19 spread from there. That’s where Disease begins his scourge. It’s merely a coincidence, but a large one given that I could have chosen for this Horse of Doom to begin its march literally anywhere else in the world.

So Why Am I Telling You This?

First, The Mythic Series is all about connections – how real events in another world called Aedea inspire creativity in this world. I take stories, language, art, even ideas themselves and reverse-engineer them into Aedean reality.

In doing so I draw lines between things that weren’t originally related. The Horse of Disease, for example, is a product of me melding Pestilence of the Four Horsemen with unicorns.

In this case, my reader was imagining that a different process had taken place. That I had hooked into a future event and forward-engineered that into fiction. As horrible as the pandemic has been, it was nice that someone found my work engaging enough to come up with a theory about it, to make their own creative connection. For someone writing about the concept of inspiration, to have actually inspired something, even a joke, was pretty neat.

Second, we live in an age where conspiracy theories have moved from the fringe to the mainstream – morphing from loony to worrying to deadly. The disinformation about vaccinations are a key example. We used to laugh off anti-vaxxers as cranks – now even people who I thought were sensible are refusing to accept literal scientific evidence about vaccinations, elevating their beliefs into facts. 

If my work was better known, I could see Horses of Doom being misused as further evidence for a “Plandemic”. I am not one to underestimate just how irrational people can be. Just recently I had to explain to someone on Twitter that the Prime Minister of New Zealand is not a snake person wearing a human disguise.

Why mention that here? Take a guess at who unleashes the Horses of Doom, including Disease, loose in our world? A snake-woman who, in the previous novel, disguises herself as one of us. Seriously, conspiracy theorists, look how many bows I’ve put on this gift to you – yet you’re chasing down tenuous links from Koontz and Browne?! I’d be offended if I took myself seriously. Which, if you read my books, it’s very clear that I don’t.

In another feature on this site – Behind The Mythic – I unpick my characters, locations, and objects to explain their component parts. So I thought it would be useful to explain why I chose Wuhan and pre-emptively unpick the central core of any potential prediction/conspiracy theories coming my way. Hey, an unknown author can dream…

Why Wuhan?

I wanted the pandemic to start in a city, because the sound of hooves against concrete set an ominous tone. Hoof beats getting closer is also a classic trope for approaching danger and tropes are the building blocks of The Mythic Series.

I wanted Disease’s activities to go unchecked for a time so it remained under my lead character Lucy’s notice. So I needed a part of the world where the Horse could run amok, but not necessarily create international headlines. This could be plausibly explained by China’s control of information.

There are other nations with strict controls on media, but I envisaged a final clash between Disease and Lucy in Hong Kong. I had been there and loved its bustle and frenetic energy. In the book the city is quarantined – its emptiness would show just how much of a threat this one unicorn actually was.

Taking all this into account, and plotting Disease’s path backwards on a map, the city of Wuhan was geographically perfectly placed. There were a couple of other Chinese cities that also fit the criteria and I could easily have chosen one of those, but the final check in Wuhan’s favour was its name. I liked how it sounded when I spoke it – a little bit mournful. That added to the tragic tone I wanted to establish.


So that’s the story of how I didn’t predict COVID-19. Plus some other stuff. I’ve laboured the point slightly, but these days it’s wise to go into detail because untruths like to hide in generalities.

Also, as previously mentioned, these aren’t times to laugh off apparent oddballs as harmless or to allow their delusions to remain disproved. Remember, there are people on Twitter saying that the Prime Minister of New Zealand is a snake person. That is nonsense. I’ve met our Prime Minister on several occasions and she is 100% human being. I mean, if anyone can recognise a snake person it’s me. I literally create them for a living.