Lessons from Lockdown

It’s been three months now since the country went into lockdown and working through this pandemic has taught me several unexpected things about my author career…

I realise that my writing is a hugely important constant in my life. It’s got me up in the morning. It’s kept me busy. My latest work in progress, and watching it unfold, has given each day a sense of normality and continuity. It has been a distraction from the chaos and tragedy happening around me locally and in the world. I’m incredibly grateful for this. Writing is my friend. It’s given me a purpose and passion at this very challenging time.

More than ever I respect the romantic comedy genre. During lockdown my thirteenth book, The Summer Island Swap has been published and reviewers have kindly said what a welcome escape the story is from our current difficult situation. I’ve had comments like these before about my books, as other romcom authors will have, from readers who’ve been having a hard time and found that such stories give them a momentary break. There is a certain snobbery out there towards romance books but lockdown has shown clearly how much people need fictional escapism and happy-ever-afters when the real world is a scary place.

Writer’s block – I’ve always written through it before and have done so again these last months. When the pandemic was unfolding in the UK, in late March, and throughout April and May, I had to write my Christmas 2020 novel. I soldiered on, putting finger to keyboard, telling myself that was the main thing, the rewrite could sort out any mess. But this time I discovered writer’s block on a whole new level. Yes, I eventually achieved the wordage I wanted but I felt blocked when it came to working out the structure of the overall plot arcs and the pace. With daily mortality rates and Covid 19 guidelines appearing minute by minute on social media, with daily worries on a personal level, I just couldn’t focus. So I guess lockdown has shown me that writer’s block isn’t as simple as I once thought. It’s not just about not being able to increase that word count. It’s also about not being able to get your head around the big things like developing character and expanding the themes.

And leading on from this I appreciate my agent more than ever. I’ve always thought she was amazingly supportive, especially with the editorial support she offers, but recently I’ve felt I need it on a different level. Her fresh pair of eyes has been able to offer perspective on the bigger aspects of the story and she’s given me confidence in what I’ve written. Between us I feel we’ve really been able to shape that sticky first draft  into a book I’m so excited about and can’t wait to share in October!

I’ve also appreciated her support around the fact that due to lockdown, I struggled to meet my deadline and needed her to ask for it to be pushed back a bit. All the editors I’ve ever worked with have been brilliantly flexible about this but still, it’s been great, during lockdown, to have one less thing to worry about.

Authors sometimes ask me about my view on agents. I find mine indispensable.

Finally, I’ve always thought of myself as a bit of a hermit writing from home, reading, watching Netflix in the evenings… however during lockdown I’ve been surprised at just how much I miss meeting up with my writing friends in real life. A group of us have coffee together in Manchester once a month and haven’t been able to do that for ages. Plus the Romantic Novelists’ Association is celebrating its Diamond Anniversary this year and has had to cancel various events, including a special summer party in June. I last saw my romance friends at an awards ceremony at the beginning of March and had such a lovely time. Social media is great but there’s nothing quite like a face to face chat where you can discuss things you might not want to share online, and have a good-humoured chat about the latest ups and downs of your career.

To sum up, due to lockdown, I’m more grateful than ever for my writing and the people connected to the industry who support it – my agent, my fellow authors, the readers who give feedback.

It’s been a horrendous time so any positives are welcome. And I end this post sending my thanks to keyworkers and love to everyone who’s been struggling.