Before Covid-19, lockdown was a concept I’d associated with a fictional attack on the White House in an over-the-top Hollywood thriller.
Now for a generation of global citizens the word lockdown will be synonymous with the Spring of 2020 when a novel coronavirus broke our ‘Long Peace’.
As the gravity of the pandemic became apparent, my first thoughts were with the victims and my family’s safety. Desperate for news, I kept one eye locked on the television. The health advice came thick and fast but was often confusing and the messaging unclear.
Like most households, I spent the weeks leading up to the lockdown learning how to wash my hands and stocking up on long-life foods. And yes, guilty as charged: I also took part in the great coronavirus toilet paper hunt.
Lockdown. With doors bolted, curtains drawn closed and bottles of disinfectant spray scattered about the house, my mind returned to the novel I was writing. Problem, I thought. The cosy corner where I wrote was in a cocktail bar not a hundred metres from my front door. And even if I tunnelled my way there unseen, what good would it do? The espresso machine stood lifeless and the red wine locked away. Both essential ingredients for a noir thriller.
Digging deep, I found the silver lining. ‘This could be a godsend,’ I told myself. A rare respite from the temptations of modern life. A time of solitude for writing my magnus opus?
Except for the exploding human tragedy outside my door, the first few weeks of lockdown passed without drama.
Working in front of an open window, I couldn’t help but notice the surreal peace that had descended over the city. Vehicles all but disappeared from the roads, along with the omnipresent hum of traffic from the nearby motorway.
And overhead the jet engine exhaust contrails that once crisscrossed the heavens like scattered pickup-sticks vanished, presenting endless days of clean blue skies and wonderful vistas long forgotten.
An artist’s life, I thought. Fresh air and serenity. Nowhere to rush to. Right? Not so fast came the answer.
My two school-age children who, until now, had been content to home-school and occupy themselves unsupervised began missing their friends. Every five minutes they’d wander in, searching for a teacher, some attention or nourishment. It was as though my wife and I had become unwitting co-captains on a condemned cruise ship. Responsible for passenger entertainment, 24-hour room service, laundry and general merriment of the passengers. It felt like we’d docked at our home port after a long cruise, but lacked permission to disembark.
Then, with time, the isolation blues faded. We all accepted things would be different for a while. A slower lifestyle where artistic endeavours and glory days took a back seat. A time to spend in the company of the immediate family, sitting around the kitchen table in conversation playing monopoly. I wondered whether life was like this before the invention of the internet and the BBC began broadcasting television.
So now we’ve come through the other end. The country is opening up. And I feel strangely inspired, ready to write with a fresh perspective on life. Stories full of empathetic characters and deeper dialogue. I’m not too sure how it’ll all fit within a noir thriller, but I can only try.
Sean Heary is a former business executive who lived for many years only a stone’s throw from the Kremlin. His first spy noir novel, ‘The Concordat’ was published in 2018 to rave reviews and his new novel, ‘The Circle-A Killings’, has been published in June 2020. Both of his books are available from www.troubador.co.uk and from all good bookshops.