Way back in January, my family and I raised a glass to 2020, a year that was meant to be truly outstanding. In 2020, my debut novel The Girl from the Hermitage would be published. Writing a book, especially the first time around, is a long process. And in my case, from original dream to the day of publication, it was a long and winding journey of five years. There would be much to celebrate upon publication.

The Girl From Hermitage

The Girl From Hermitage

The other big event making 2020 outstanding was our 20th wedding anniversary. These two big life events have a common link: Russia.

I met my husband in Russia (the old fashioned way, in an Irish pub) and my novel is set in Russia. This country, where I lived for six years in the Nineties, has had a profound influence on so many aspects of my life. To celebrate these two big life events, we planned to visit Moscow and St Petersburg in May 2020.

Oh how plans change.

As lockdown came into effect, our world became smaller and smaller. Our celebratory trip to Russia was cancelled. I felt anxious and slept terribly. I started to worry that my tiny independent publisher, Lightning Books, would not survive the economic turmoil of Covid. Perhaps my book would not make it into the world.

To my delight and surprise, my publisher decided to move the ebook publication date forward for The Girl from the Hermitage, because Covid had revived interest in ebooks.

This early release news came at a good time for me. I was way too wrapped up in daily briefings, tweets from virologists and Covid graphs and charts. Instead of worrying about coronavirus and the demise of modern society, I focused on promoting my book. I created new relationships with other debut authors via a Facebook group. I contacted friends and family to relay the exciting news about the ebook. There is a theme of food throughout the novel, so I prepared some of the Russian dishes from the book and blogged about them on my website.

As I promoted The Girl from the Hermitage, I felt healthier and less weighed down. All this book activity sparked my creative mind, giving me an idea for a second novel. I then threw myself into researching and I started to write again. I also started reading for pleasure. I have read a mountain of books during lockdown. Fiction has provided a welcome escape from 2020.

This appreciation for fiction in these stressful times was echoed by one of my readers in my first Amazon review. Jen, a reader somewhere in America, wrote: “Art has power. It can be a shelter. It can be a ghost. It can transport you to a time and a place, conjuring memories that you alone possess. Gartland’s novel is a celebration of those memories and, indeed, of the power of art. It was a timely shelter in the time of sheltering at home.”

I’m honoured and delighted that my book has provided some solace in these uncertain times.

The Girl from the Hermitage is published in paperback by Lightning Books on 14 September, price £8.99