What WOULD we have done without books this year? The arts saved us. Music, films, photographs, documentaries, art, and books were – in many ways – all we had in 2020. The escape and joy they offered perhaps replaced (or at least compensated for) the lack of human contact, the being separated from our families, the having to stay home from work, the losing of loved ones. For me, the writing (I wrote two books during lockdown, a novel and my memoir) and the reading kept me sane, as it has since I was a child. Difficult times compel me to dissect the world with fiction; my own.
I started writing Daffodils at the end of 2019, Then, throughout the first lockdown, it was the place I went once I’d done my permitted one hour of outdoor exercise, and the door was shut, and I was home, just the husband and me. My memoir’s completion coincided with the easing of lockdown measures; I came out of my past and the real-world present at the same time. I decided to give myself some time off – Daffodils had been an exhausting write – but I just can’t stay away from the words for long. By the time the second Covid-19 wave came, I was in the throes of book nine, a story that reflected my frustration and examines a world where fiction is banned.
As well as the actual writing, I launched book six – I Am Dust – in April. It had to be done entirely online. It was a challenge, but I was fortunate that it wasn’t my debut and I already had a small platform built from the success of previous books. I watched as many writer friends had to navigate not only the new experience of having their first novel released but do it in these strange and distanced times, where actual literary events feel like a thing of a long-gone era. Many of us supported one another, doing giveaways of each other’s novels, and sharing reviews. There was a wonderful camaraderie among the community. I think we all knew that coming together was the only way. It was the same with bloggers and festival organisers – we all had to rethink how we ‘got together’ to celebrate new books. And we did. I took still part in Newcastle Noir (sporting disastrous home-dyed hair!) and Noir at the Bar and the East Riding Festival of Words, talking from my front room via zoom instead.
But I miss people. I miss that closeness; I miss reading an extract and getting an intimate reaction from an audience member, signing physical books, laughing while in the same room, enjoying those ticks and connections that online contact can’t replicate. We will have that again, some day, and I think we’ll appreciate it like never before.
And next year? What do I hope for, quietly and with controlled optimism, tiptoeing into 2021 lest it spots me and tells me to bugger off? Here’s what I know is happening – book seven, published again by the tirelessly hardworking Karen Sullivan at Orenda. I’m really excited about This Is How We Are Human, which is out in eBook April, and in paperback June. The novel was inspired by a real-life dilemma, that of my friend Fiona Mills and her twenty-year-old son Sean. He inspired Sebastian, who is autistic and looking for love and sex in a world that thinks it knows better what he needs than he does. The cover reveal will be in the new year, and it’s a beauty. For now, in case you missed it, here’s a chat with Fiona about the process and how she guided me through certain chapters.
What else in 2021? I hope that Daffodils finds its place in the literary world, even though it will be scary to share my own real-life story with others. I hope we can slowly emerge from our homes and see one another again. I hope to do physical book events and festivals again. I hope to be able to thank in person all the writers and reviewers and bloggers who made 2020 special in spite of a world pandemic. Because I think we did. I think we got lost in the power of stories, whether writing them or reading them or singing loudly about the ones we loved most.