Stay at home? Fantastic. You have a tickle in your throat? No problem to self-isolate.
It’s what we authors do – sometimes for hours on end – so immersed in our stories that we don’t even notice we’re alone. In fact, we welcome our aloneness, undisturbed by family or the weather outside, and can even feel resentful when the telephone rings and we’re in the middle of a particularly emotional or cliff-hanging scene. ‘Should I answer it or just let them leave a message?’ is what I usually ask myself, the shrill ring of the phone having made me nearly jump out of my seat when I’ve been tapping away happily at the screen with my latest novel. And woe betide if anyone interrupts me on my precious coffee break. I’m ashamed to say I invariably pretend I’m not cocooned in my writing cabin and let them leave a message. Even having to break off to answer emails can be a chore.
So when we heard the news of a nationwide lockdown you can understand why I wasn’t particularly worried. I had plenty of dried food in the pantry, a reasonable store of frozen, and thought I could easily manage without going to the supermarket for a few weeks by using the village shop and the local farm shop. I could continue my writing life and would hardly notice any difference.
That may have been partly true if I lived on my own. But I’m caring for a husband who is in the vulnerable bracket, being terminally ill. Until recently, I’ve been able to balance looking after him and continuing with my writing, grateful when he’s resting to have regular periods to escape to a world in which I’m in control. But now, not knowing when the virus could strike, has put me – and everyone – in a spin.
Worrying about contracting Covid-19 myself and passing it on to my husband wasn’t going to help either of us, so I decided to self-isolate with him, relying on others to deliver groceries and medicines. That would at least free me up to continue my daily writing if I didn’t need to shop.
I didn’t reckon on how dreadful it was not to see anyone. Not to have my sister or a friend give me a hug when I’m really down, or me give them, not to have a chat with our smiling owner of the village shop or allowed to stop and talk to the dog walkers when I’m taking my hour’s exercise. How I love it now when the postman delivers a cheery card, flowers arrive from a friend who understands how difficult things are, my sister phones for our daily conversation, and the doctor from Hospice asks how I’m coping.
But I’ve discovered Zoom! It’s wonderful for me and my two small writing groups to get together every fortnight or so, talking about our writing. Of course it’s not the same as it used to be, one group where we had a monthly all-day meeting, the other where we stayed at their second homes in Greece and Cornwall twice a year for several days of intensive writing. But just to see their smiling faces in the little boxes at the top of my screen cheers me up no end and I always feel happier and inspired after our chats. Then there’s my critique writing partner, who made France her home several years ago, reminding me she is only at the other end of a Skype for support. Now, more than ever, I relish our chats. We talk about our writing and where we are with our projects and any problems and again, I usually settle to some writing after an hour in her company even if my word count is only a fraction of the usual goal.
I’ve always valued and cherished my friends and family, but it’s now when I most need them that I know how much they really mean to me. So this message is for them: interrupt me with phone calls and emails, Skypes and Zooms, all you like. And writing pals, know that without you I couldn’t carry on writing with the same enthusiasm, and it would be hard to summon up even the confidence to continue.
I’m hoping the lockdown will encourage more people who lead busy lives to take the opportunity to settle down with a cup of tea or a glass of wine without feeling in the least bit guilty, for some ‘me time’, sharing in the joy of reading. After all, if it wasn’t for the readers, there’d be no point in writing.
As Winston Churchill ended many of his letters during the war – and would have said exactly the same in this lockdown: ‘KBO!’
And so say all of us!
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