I was furloughed relatively early from my job as a library assistant, before I even knew what the term ‘furlough’ actually meant, and those first few weeks of lockdown were mostly spent in shock trying to make sense of it all – and feeling desperately sad for all those families who had been left devastated by the pandemic, and all the NHS staff and key workers who were having to deal with its escalating effects on a daily basis. Initially, it was difficult to concentrate on anything except what was going on in the world. There was so much information to digest and process. And through it all we had to find our own way of coping, developing strategies to help us move forward.
For me, that involved doing more of the things that I’ve always done, rather than learning anything new. I walked more, far more than I’ve ever walked before, and being outside was quite literally ‘a breath of fresh air’. I read more, losing myself in other people’s worlds (and words). I’ve done countless jigsaws – landscapes, seascapes, animals and cities – which is the thing that calms me most when I’m feeling particularly anxious. It’s amazing how fitting 1,000 different-shaped pieces together can quiet the mind. I’ve crocheted, decluttered, been inspired to cook new recipes, and I’ve rediscovered crosswords and puzzles. I’m fortunate in that I like being at home, although of course ‘like being’ is very different from ‘having to be’.
The eBook edition of my novel, The Weight of Small Things, was published on 28th May, preceded by an online blog tour, which was both thrilling and terrifying. On the one hand, you’re elated that a book that you’ve written is going to be published but, at the same time, you’re anxious about how it might be received. And would people want to read my book? Would they find more comfort in the familiar – favourite, more established authors – during such unprecedented times? Ultimately, however, as with other online platforms, eBooks played a huge role in keeping us entertained. With more time on our hands, we were able to read more and the more choices we had, the better.
It’s only since lockdown’s eased and I’ve been able to think more clearly that I’ve felt able to write again. Finding my way back into Book Two has definitely been challenging, but it’s also been hugely restorative and absorbing. Writing, I’ve found, often helps, whether it’s noting down thoughts, keeping a diary or tackling that ‘difficult’ second novel. I suspect that we’ll be seeing many talented new writers emerging over the coming months; those who’d never even thought about writing a book before and those who always wanted to write a book, but who had never before had the time.
And, hopefully, when some semblance of normality returns, we’ll remember the things that mattered most, and the things that helped us cope, and continue to find time for them.
The Weight of Small Things by Julie Lancaster (Mirror Books, £8.99) is out now.