During lockdown I had the time/opportunity to write two novels. Did I do it? Of course not.
I guess the reason is multi-layered and complex culminating in writerly inactivity. I didn’t exactly stop writing, but I ceased to progress. I edited instead of writing new words. The only new things I wrote were short stories for anthologies I’d been invited to write for.
In my other life I’m a music booking agent for folk, world music and Americana artists. As you can imagine, the music industry fell off a cliff when Covid hit. Performers, venues, sound and lighting techs, and agents, too, were all instantly out of work, except, of course, for those of us who were frantically trying to make the best out of the situation, by reorganising dates and work schedules. And that was twice the work for no money. (Agents don’t get paid until after the gig when the artist gets paid, so we do the work months, sometimes years, in advance of being paid for it.)
When Covid struck, I had a solo musician on tour in the UK from Canada. He’d just spent a couple of nights with us to sleep off jet-lag and collect his tour book (full details of all the gigs), then he’d headed out, by train all the way from Yorkshire to Devon, done the first two gigs on the six-week tour… and then BANG! Lockdown. The Canadian government advised citizens who needed to fly back to Canada to do so immediately or risk not being able to get in. He flew, at a vastly inflated price. (Thanks for nothing Air Canada.)
My immediate job was to try and rebook all his cancelled gigs for 2021 (because surely this pandemic would all be over by next year). Then I had to cancel and rebook tours from abroad that were supposed to be happening later in the year, and also move dates for UK artists. Of course, you’re all ahead of me. Rearranged dates from 2020 to 2021, all had to be re-rearranged into 2022, and in some cases 2023. In one specific case I rearranged tour dates three times and then the artist decided not to tour at all. Three times the work for none of the money. One agent I know was stacking shelves in a supermarket to keep the wolf from the door. Things were about as bad as they could get in the entertainment industry, and are still not back to normal (whatever Boris says) but we’re getting there. I just had a duo from Canada complete a successful tour, and my solo Canadian artist is back again and on tour as I write. Keep your fingers crossed that he remains Covid-free and has no cancellations.
So… against that backdrop… writing.
Everyone in the publishers’ office went on to home working, so things began to slow down.
My husband and I stayed in – self isolating – because my mum, who has the granny-house-next-door was ninety-five, so we couldn’t risk her coming down with Covid. (This was before vaccinations, remember.) My daughter’s grandma-in-law caught it in her nursing home and died just as vaccines were becoming available. So we locked in, and tried to get supermarket delivery slots. I tried Sainsbury, Tesco, Asda, Ocado/Waitrose, all with limited success. Tesco was the first to get its act together. I discovered that if I sat online at midnight, in a queue of some sort, hovering over the book-a-slot icon, I could usually get a booking for four weeks hence as they released one more day. But I had to be quick, as all the slots had generally gone by twenty past midnight. On one occasion all the slots had been booked by twenty seconds past midnight. Booking the next grocery slot, and the next, and the next became a necessary obsession and took up way too much of my attention. Watching the nightly Covid statistics on the news also took up a lot of my mental energy. How many hundreds had died today; how badly affected was our own county, local authority, parish? It all took on nightmare proportions. I’m a science fiction writer. Was this the beginning of the end? Was this pandemic about to become one of apocalyptic proportions?
Did I write? Not much. I did a final edit on The Amber Crown, but didn’t write anything new.
Things were moving forward with The Amber Crown. My agent had made some editorial suggestions, which I’d addressed. My agent and publisher were talking and I was delighted to hear that it would be coming out in either hardback or trade paperback with a mass-market paperback to follow sometime later.
Despite not having received notes on the final edits from my editor, it was time to discuss the cover for The Amber Crown. I’m very lucky that DAW gives me some input into what kind of cover I would like, though I’m sure they’d not indulge me if I asked for something totally uncommercial. This time I asked for a graphic-type cover rather than an illustrative one, and sent an example of another book cover that I liked. My editor agreed with my ideas – graphics covers seemed to be popular – and within weeks I had the final finished cover drop into my inbox. I LOVED it.
With The Amber Crown written to the best of my ability, and delivered, I was hanging about waiting for editorial comments, anticipating having to make some alterations, subtractions and additions, so, somehow, I didn’t seem to be able to get my mind out of that book and into a new one.
With publication slated for January 2022 I was still worrying about having time to address any editorial queries when I received an email to say there were no editorial issues with the book and that The Amber Crown was going through to the copy-editing stage immediately. Wow! No editorial queries! I was amazed, and possibly a little worried. I’ve always regarded the publisher’s editing phase as my safety net, and here I was on the high wire, without one. But, of course, my agent, who is vastly experienced, had already done an editorial pass, so I shouldn’t really be surprised.
Copy-edit checks and the final proofread, came hot on the heels of each other. These are the last chance I have to make any alterations I feel necessary, though by the time the book has been designed and typeset, those changes had better be small. Done. Book out of my hands now… except, now begins the seemingly endless round of trying to get it noticed. Yes. my publisher has the use of PenguinRandomHouse publicists. I was assigned both a publicist and a marketing person, both of whom were happy to communicate. I began to write endless blog posts for a blog tour, and blog-swaps. Some were sourced by my publicist and some by me – mainly blog-swaps with authors I’ve ‘swapped’ with before. There were interviews (in writing and via Zoom).
I asked my publicist about an online book launch. Yes, she said, they would do that for me… and then she proceeded to tell me how to do it myself. So… my book did get an online launch, thanks to fellow author, Tiffani Angus who was cajoled into ‘interviewing’ me online, straight to a Facebook video. I was very nervous of the tech stuff which was finally resolved by using a service outside of Facebook… and there I was… The Amber Crown was launched. (And, yes, I’d love you to buy it, and to write reviews, and tell your friends.)
And that, my friends, is why I didn’t write two new books during lockdown.