I had just been given the green light and started writing my fifth book for Transworld when Lockdown hit. Like a number of authors, I found it hard to focus in the first couple of weeks, but once I stopped obsessing over the news I realised nothing much had changed, mainly because the children have left home. My husband and I had no one to entertain but ourselves.

Keep Her Quiet

Keep Her Quiet

For me lockdown has been about conversation. Right at the beginning I decided to call elderly friends who lived alone. One, in his mid-eighties, had been widowed almost exactly a year earlier. He is an academic, an author and a formidable intellect. I am only one of those things and yet we've always liked each other.

He is not the easiest conversationalist because he's so curious, if that isn't a contradiction in terms. He will pick up on something I've said and ask me to explain it, then unravel my explanation. He'll examine what I say until he's satisfied I'm making sense, which is not always the case. He will listen, carefully, to everything I say and I listen even more carefully in return.

Probably around the time I became a mother, I lost the ability to have deep and meaningful conversations and started talking about children, schools and houses, worried that if I delved into subjects that are universal and profound I would sound pretentious. Since lockdown I've tried to change. It's good to discuss things outside your immediate environment, just as it's good to leave the place you live in for a while.

Writing in lockdown has been about letting go of inhibitions. Sometimes I become aware that I'm trying too hard. Having fewer calls on my time, I've had more opportunity to work on my prose and dialogue, and that's not necessarily a good thing. When I spot a passage that reeks of over-writing, I start a new document, allowing the words to come as they would if I was describing something to a friend, or talking to someone I either didn't like, or loved, or needed something from. It becomes real, like the day dreams you have as a child, with no effort at 'good writing' getting in the way. The approach works because so much happens when we don't think before we speak; people are hurt, upset, broken; misunderstandings happen, gaps widen, conflict deepens. It helps to write these passages with my eyes closed. Rather than stare at words on a screen I imagine the character my protagonist is speaking to, or shouting at, or pleading with, right there, in front of me.

Now that lockdown has eased I feel like I did when it began; easily distracted. This time I'm getting used to freedom as opposed to restriction, but I do the work, nonetheless. I have never been the kind of author who needs things a certain way before they can begin. I don't believe in writing retreats, but lockdown is the closest I've ever been to one.

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