March sees me writing about unbelievably brave women who flew Spitfires for the Air Transport Auxiliary service during World War Two. Those Atta girls were up there at 30,000 feet unarmed and with no radio, freezing to death and battling everything from blizzards to thick fog and violent electric storms. Be grateful for lockdown, I tell myself. At least you’re warm and dry and not being shot at by the Luftwaffe.
A desk and a computer transport me to a different world. That’s the joy of working as a writer – you travel wherever you want without leaving your swivel chair.
But what to do in real life when your diary suddenly empties? Blank pages and cancelled appointments. No meetings in the metropolis with my wonderful agent and editors, taking in gallery visits and theatre while I’m there. No birthday lunches with friends. No socializing with my nearest and dearest – aagh!
I’m an outdoors girl and behold; the weather is glorious! Spring bursts onto the scene in a blaze of yellow daffodils. I cycle up hill and down dale and I walk my puppy by the river. Ah yes; Dexter. He’s my young border collie, full of bounce and vim. Herding is in his genes so he thinks that everything that moves is a sheep. I bring in a dog expert for a spot of professional training. Now Dexter comes when I call (mostly) and walkers on the Pennine Way can proceed unmolested.
Back to the desk. My Atta girls, Mary, Viv and Bobbie, fly into all sorts of danger –their ferry pool is bombed and one of their pilots dies. Who to save and who to kill off? It’s war time so someone has to die. But I love my characters and live through the dangers with them. I want them all to survive.
Summer comes and the weather goes downhill. I cancel two trips to America and one to Amsterdam. No horse riding in the Rocky Mountains this year. My spirits take a dive. But at least the floor panels are not dropping out of my ageing Hurricane and I’m not experiencing sub-zero blasts of air as I try to land.
I try my hand at painting cherry blossom in my basement studio. Pink and white and green. Laying paint on a big canvas soothes and absorbs.
I send off my manuscript. Will my editor approve? I’ve been doing this for God knows how long but every delivery makes me hold my breath and cross everything that can be crossed.
Yes; she loves it! We work together on small changes. It’s like knitting – if you drop a stitch the whole thing unravels. In August I see the results of a photo-shoot for the cover. There’s bunting in the background and snow and sparkle everywhere. Cover copy is approved, the book is off to the printers and Christmas with the Spitfire Girls will soon be on the shelves. Take that, lockdown!
Restrictions continue into autumn. I watch too much News. I wear a mask. I cycle and I walk the dog (‘Wait, Dexter – here; good boy!). I buy a new chair for the office, ready to start all over again.
Christmas with the Spitfire Girls by Jenny Holmes is published in paperback by Corgi on 15th October, £6.99.