A Facebook memory popped up over the weekend from three years ago that put 2020 in a little bit of perspective for me. The immediacy of everything that has happened over the last twelve months can make us feel that it is the worst year in the history of the universe, but this Facebook memory reminded me that, for me at least, it hasn’t been. I’ve been shielding since March, I’ve barely left my house, I haven’t seen any of my friends since February, I’ve seen my dad once and other than my GP and my neurologist, I haven’t spoken to anyone except my husband since the beginning of October. But all in, 2020 has been a dream compared to 2016/17.
So I decided to look at the good things that have happened this year, the roses that have grown in the manure as it were, as a reminder to myself of what I’m capable of even during the terrible times.
I started the year in a fairly shit place – after 3 books with Harper Collins, I had no agent and no publisher. But I did have a book that I’d written in 2018 that I really loved, so I started sending it out to anyone who’d read it. On 31st January Aria Fiction offered me a two book contract and Lina Langlee at North Agency offered to represent me. It was a dream come true but it came with a caveat. The book I’d written was a summer book and they pegged it for a spring 2021 release – could I write a Christmas book by 1st April?
Always up for a challenge, I said yes. If I gave up my lunch hours to write 1000 words a day I could do it, I was sure. Couldn’t I? But something else was rumbling away that was bigger than all of us…
On 17 March, one week before the government announced the first national lockdown, my work bought me a laptop and sent me home to shield as a “vulnerable person”. At first I was terrified. I’d never really worked from home before, I had no idea what it would be like, if I’d manage it or if it was just an excuse for my workplace to quietly manage the chronically ill person out. As it turned out none of that happened. My husband has been working from home for years and helped me set up a new desk and office space (he knew then it was going to go on for months). It turned out that working from home was better for my health and could be done, despite the naysayers. Covid-19 was the kick up the bum my firm needed to start going paperless and to understand how important flexible working is. It also freed up a huge amount of commuting time for me, commuting time that could now be writing time. The Christmas book was finished with time to spare so thanks for that Covid!
Over the summer a few things happened. Firstly, between June and September I wrote another book. It’s tentatively called The Summer House and takes place over three long hot summers (1976, 2003 and 2018). If things go well it should be out in the summer of 2022 (surely we’ll be due for another hot one by then?). I left the house for the first time in July for an afternoon walking around the lake at Nostell. I had a haircut in August and found out that I’d got on to the postgrad program in Victorian Literature that I’d applied for (sadly I had to defer my start date to Autumn 2021 because Covid….) and then in September we escaped for a week to the Norfolk Coast, waving to my dad on the way. While we were away the rumours started that Leeds was going back into lockdown so we went home and battened down the hatches.
Other than a couple more walks around the lake at Nostell, I’ve been at home for nearly 10 months. The money I would have spent on commuting I’ve spent instead on soft furnishings to brighten up the house. I’ve grown vegetables and knitted two cardigans. I’ve written and edited thousands and thousands of words. I’ve read absolutely loads, including some really big books I’d been meaning to read for years (4321, Middlemarch, The Woman in White, The Luminaries) – more on books next week – and I’ve learned a lot about how the world looks at disabled and chronically ill people (heads up – we have lives that we miss too and to even consider that we should be “locked up” so everyone else can have their “freedom back” is ableist nonsense which I have no time for). I’ve learned to stand up for myself and I’ve negotiated part time hours at work from January.
Oh! And because I couldn’t go swimming I started working out with my husband (who is insane by the way) and I now have biceps and abs.
I’m not going to pretend this year hasn’t been hard (it has) or that my husband and I aren’t incredibly lucky and privileged (we are) or that I haven’t felt like lying on the floor and giving up most days (I have). But so far I’m alive and the people I love are alive and I am beyond grateful and humbled for that.
And we have a vaccine on the way! It will be OK eventually so please mask up, stay safe and have a wonderful (if socially distanced/Zoom) Christmas.
Now I just have to write my Christmas 2021 book…..
(And finally that book I wrote in 2018 had a cover reveal last week – here it is and you can preorder here)