All writers yearn for more time to write. When we were forced into lockdown, despite all the horror of the pandemic, I’m convinced I was not the only one who nurtured a guilty secret that my wish might come true. Things may have started well, but as time dragged, reality struck.
There is only so long writers can exist in isolation. Though writing itself is a solitary occupation, we all need stimulus. We can all be thankful for zoom. It’s true that many writing groups have been able to continue online although it’s not the same without all the informal chitchat. The main problem is that our inspiration comes from the wider world – something observed be it in nature to add colour to a description; an incident that might prompt ideas for a scene; the odd overheard snippet of conversation that provides depth to one of our minor characters. In our normal lives, the writer’s instinct to absorb these things around us becomes more and more honed without us ever realising it. We become life’s natural observers, feeding our creative core.
Social media and email have allowed us to connect with fellow writers but I’m missing my annual dose of a writers’ festival. One big advantage we English writers have is the wide range of different conferences we can attend. Over the years I’ve sampled a good few and I’ve never failed to come home after four or five days away eager to get back to the keyboard. Some of my chosen courses have been a great deal more useful than others, but the greatest benefit has always been the buzz of spending an extended time among people who understand my passions, share and understand my insecurities and problems as a writer.
This year my writing journey has been tough. Things began well. Throughout the first few weeks my wordcount shot up to double my normal rate and I was feeling proud of myself. I had every advantage. I had all day to write. No more yoga or Tai Chi classes to prepare and my mornings – usually spent at the gym or line dancing – were now my own. I don’t have to worry about having to home-school or find a quiet corner to write without interruption. My husband and I each have our own study, so I can write without any disturbance and only the odd bird antics or squirrels playing outside my study window to distract me. I prefer to work on a PC with two monitors – I’m not a have-laptop-will-travel sort of person. Not for me a corner in a café, a desk in a library or a rented room in an office block. I can’t even write on a long plane or train journey.
The end was in sight but then things began to falter. My novel needed more research. With all our holiday plans thrown into limbo because of the pandemic, I had little choice but to set the itinerary for the next Fiona Mason Travel Mystery here in Britain using locations I’d already visited. As I wrote at length in my September blog – Researching Jane Austen – I’m a fan of her work and, over the years, in addition to places such as the Jane Austen House Museum and the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, I’ve visited several National Trust houses where films and TV dramas of Austen’s novels have been made. I decided to invent a tour staying in Winchester and Bath. None of us appreciated at the lockdown and travel restrictions would go on for so long. I anticipated that once I had the bare bones of my story, I’d be able to spend my summer revisiting all the locations I’d used to add colour to my story.
Not that it was my only difficulty. No fictional itinerary that I dream up for Fiona and her passengers can make up for the experience of doing an organised tour with other people. So many of the minor incidents that happen along the way – a slip on a step leading to a wrenched ankle, a chance discussion over dinner, the reaction of a fellow passenger on one of the visits – may well end up thinly disguised as a clue, a red herring or to add colour and depth to enrich the story. It may seem a small thing but writing this novel has proved just how important reliving my holiday through the writing has always been for me.
Another question that all writers setting their novels in the here and now are asking is, do we acknowledge the pandemic? Most readers want nothing more than to get lost in a world remote from their daily experience – especially this year. My novels are all set on a holiday tour, no way can I make reference to 2020 or anything that might reflect the way we are all having to live our lives right now.
Blood Follows Jane Austen will be launched in the next few weeks. As you will know from my last email, the manuscript is now with my beta readers. Next week, it will be available to pre-order on Amazon. It would be fantastic if you would be kind enough to share with your friends on Facebook, Twitter etc.
If you would like a pre-publication copy of the novel in exchange for a review posted on Amazon or Goodreads then look out for my next email.
If you would like to share how lockdown has affected you as a writer or a reader, don’t forget to let me know in the comments box below.