Writing can be a challenge at any point, but in a lockdown, it can be nigh on impossible. I feel lucky that I’ve managed to write two full novels, one nonfiction title and rewrite two books during the past 14 months or so. But it was far from easy.
The First Lockdown
Looking back to the first lockdown in March 2020, it’s difficult to remember how shocking it all was then. No one had ever seen or heard of a situation where the world was shutting itself down and hiding at home to avoid getting sick. Yet, some people got very ill and died. Images of those that were suffering and those within the health service who were tirelessly trying to save them filled our screens day and night.
My heart goes out to all the families and loved ones who are grieving.
As a creative, my life didn’t change that much with the lockdowns. I’ve worked from home for several years now, and the ‘products’ I produce are bought online and the majority of them are in digital form. In theory, nothing was stopping me from writing.
The Island Daughter
Of course, we all know it’s not that simple. After some readjustments with the domestic arrangements (the Englishman was in lockdown too and suddenly at home all the time), I put my head down and got on with The Island Daughter.
Book 3 in Love on the Island Series, came out on July 17th 2020. Writing the novel was fairly easy, mainly because there were no distractions. No offers to go out for coffee, no conferences, or social engagements, no friends with tempting holiday suggestions. Or, that’s how I remember it (see below).
Writing in a Lockdown Every Day
The next project was always going to be a book about writing. I’ve often attributed my limited self-publishing success to being able – or forcing myself – to write every day. It’s what keeps me sane from day to day. Besides, if you call yourself a writer, shouldn’t you write every day?
Don’t answer that. 🙄
I’ve had more than my share of different opinions on this matter thrown at me from many quarters. I still maintain that, as an author, one of the most effective ways to keep yourself afloat mentally and financially, is to get into the habit of writing every day.
It was therefore quite ironic that the nonfiction title, Write Every Day: Motivate Yourself to Success was one of the most difficult books for me to write. Fancy that!
I did, however, get on with it and eventually published the title in early November 2020. I swore this would be my last nonfiction book, but guess what, I’m already planning the next one. (Yep, I’m a glutton for punishment)
The English Heart
After I eventually got Write Every Day out of the door, I decided to do something that I’d wanted to do for a long time. This was to improve the first novel I ever published, The English Heart.
I employed a new editor to reassess the novel. Her verdict was what I had expected: there were several weak areas in the book.
After the rewrite, the storyline of The English Heart is still exactly the same, as are the main characters. The novel is based on my own life, so I wasn’t going to change that! But I needed to tidy it up a bit.
I absolutely loved this exercise and would recommend anyone who is thinking about rewriting old titles to go ahead. I also recommend that you get help. There is no way I could have done it without a professional editor, Kate Gallagher.
I wrote a blog post about the process here.
The Second Lockdown
January 2021 came around and everyone was so buoyed by this fresh New Year that was going to be so much better than the pandemic-ridden, lockdown year of 2020. (How naive we were)
I, too, got swept up in the general euphoria and began writing a new novel. I was full of joy when starting Book 4 in the Love on the Island series, but in February I stopped writing.
Just like that.
‘It’s the curse of that nonfiction title, Write Every Day,’ I joked on a Zoom call with a fellow writer.
There was some truth in that, but also, I felt that I just had no inspiration left in my body. I felt completely empty of everything. I hadn’t been to the Åland Islands where the series is set for many, many months.
Sitting in the middle of the Baltic Sea between Finland and Sweden, Åland has a rich history of war and seafaring. Now a tourist destination, its permanent population is quirky, to say the least, while its natural beauty is beyond comparison. Well, I think so at least. Although I know the place intimately, I still needed to smell the sea air and talk to the people to be inspired.
We were also beginning to fear in February that, in spite of the emergence of vaccines, this thing called Covid would not go away as quickly as might have been predicted in March 2020.
I think both the inability to travel to Finland, or my beloved islands, and the knowledge that lockdowns, restrictions, mask-wearing, and the general fear for everyone’s safety, was going to be with us for a long time, paralysed my creativity.
The Faithful Heart
So I did what I knew I could do even with no desire to write – rewrite another book.
This time I took it upon myself to cast a critical eye over The Faithful Heart, Book 2 to The Nordic Heart series. This task wasn’t quite as comprehensive as the rewriting of The English Heart.
When I wrote the novel back in 2015 (then titled, The Navy Wife), I shied away from describing an encounter between Kaisa, the heroine, and Duncan, her husband’s friend and fellow naval officer. I’m not quite sure why I just couldn’t write the scene at the time. All I can guess is that because the first book in the series (The English Heart, above) is closely based on my own life, and all the books have some elements of the life I led being married to the Navy, I just couldn’t bring myself to describe the betrayal.
I did, later, write the scene and offered it to my mailing list as an exclusive extra chapter (I often do this after finishing a novel). However, over time, I’ve felt that the scene really belongs in the book. In February this year, during the second lockdown, I added it to the novel. I think the story is much better for it.
An Island Summer
Finally, in late March this year, I returned to my current manuscript, An island Summer. I did the thing that everyone says you shouldn’t do and set it on pre-order with Amazon. Doing this is like setting a gun to my head, because (and you may not know this), Amazon is very strict about moving the publication date of preorders.
During the pandemic, in 2020, they did loosen the rules a bit, but in 2021 we are back to the strict regime. You can only change the date once. If you have to do it more times than this, or you cancel the preorder altogether, you are barred from setting your future books on preorder for a year.
Of course, it’s also very disappointing to your readers if you mess about with the publishing date, so it’s pretty much a no-no. I have to admit to doing this a couple of times with my nonfiction titles which are like getting blood out of the stone for me, but I try very hard not to do this with fiction titles.
If I set a preorder for a novel, I have to meet the date.
It seems I work best under pressure. Suddenly, I was able to start writing and the novel is currently being proofread. I’ve also sent An Island Summer to my loyal and brilliant group of Advance Readers (I call them my Launch Team). So I am as confident as I can ever be that the novel will be out on 17th June as promised.
Every Book is Difficult
After sending An Island Summer to my Launch Team and the proofreader, I was talking to the Englishman and my sister about how this latest title was such a difficult book to write. Jokingly, I said that it was probably because it was my book number 13, although I’m not at all superstitious.
‘It’s been the worst one so far,’ I added.
Both, during separate conversations (my sister lives in Northern Sweden), were suspiciously silent, making no comment.
‘Do I say that every time?’ I enquired.
‘Pretty much,’ said both.
Giving birth to a book seems to be like giving birth to a baby. You forget all the pain and end up having more. This must be the reason why I have immediately started writing Book 5 (as yet untitled). All I can hope is that I don’t discover that another one of my previous titles needs rewriting or get the urge to write another nonfiction book. Although I do have one in mind …
Watch this space.
An Island Summer is out on 17 June 2021. The eBook version is now on a preorder offer of $0.99 (£0.99/ €0.99). The paperback copy will be published at the same time and will be available online and in good bookshops.
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