One of the most important things I learned in 2020 was that it is very easy to lose perspective when so much of my life feels out of control.
When a flurry of friends shared end-of-year posts in which they realised 2020 had been more rewarding than it had seemed at the time, I recognised the same was true for me.
At the end of 2019, I was sure that 2020 could only be better. Quite apart from political and environmental disappointments (no need to go into those here), the old year had brought me two major health crises. Two scary dashes to hospital with breathing difficulties just after Christmas had led to a new diagnosis of asthma, on top of a year-long debilitating flare of my rheumatoid arthritis that was not responding to treatment.
I had lots of exciting plans to look forward to in 2020, including the annual Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival that I run in my home village, The Selfies Awards ceremony at the London Book Fair for which my novel Secrets at St Bride’s was shortlisted, and some interesting speaking engagements at various writing retreats and conferences around the country. Then along came the pandemic.
That annual rail pass I bought in January 2020 is about to expire unused.
Confined to my home by the need to shield due to the immunosuppressants I take for the arthritis (thankfully new ones from February 2020 brought a vast improvement), I felt thwarted, and I struggled to write as much as I thought I should be writing, given the lack of distractions. As a last resort, I set up an unfinished novel on pre-order on Amazon, the deadline forcing me to work flat out to finish it.
Even so, I felt like a castaway, marooned and powerless – a modern-day Robinson Crusoe, albeit with a regular supermarket delivery slot, cats in place of goats, and a husband and daughter instead of Friday for companionship. So while I was hardly deprived, sometimes I couldn’t stop my gaze lingering on the horizon, hoping for signs of rescue. Although one might think this would have been the perfect time to write my planned travel memoir, Travels with my Camper Van, after several false starts, I set it aside, disappointed that it had stalled.
A Surprisingly Productive Year
However, with the wisdom of hindsight that New Year’s Eve brings, I now realise that in 2020 I was far more productive than I had been in 2019, when I published just one novel, Secrets at St Bride’s.
By contrast, in 2020, I wrote two more novels, Stranger at St Bride’s and Murder Your Darlings; the first two in my new series of Tales from Wendlebury Barrow Quick Reads (c. 20% novel length), The Natter of Knitters and The Clutch of Eggs; and the first Sophie Sayers prequel, a short story Christmas Ginger, featuring Sophie’s Great Auntie May.
As I’ve done every year since 2010, I also wrote 10 columns for the Tetbury Advertiser and 12 for the Hawkesbury Parish News. In addition I completed the first two articles in a newly commissioned series of eight for Mslexia (the magazine for women who write), a short non-fiction guidebook for the Alliance of Independent Authors, plus various blog posts for my own blog and as a guest writer on other sites.
By anyone’s standards, that’s productive.
Writing in Captivity
Only now as I’m writing this post does it occur to me that prison has proven a famously fruitful workspace for writers. Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur were all written in jail. (More examples are in this Guardian article, though not all are such great role models – Marquis de Sade, I’m looking at you!)
Buoyed Up for New Year
So as I ditch my old 2020 calendars and diaries, I’m going to focus on even more ambitious productivity goals for the new year:
- a new Sophie Sayers novel, Murder Lost and Found
- a new St Bride’s novel, Scandal at St Bride’s
- a new trilogy of May Sayers short stories, May Sayers Comes Home
- in time for Christmas 2021, The Wendlebury Barrow Christmas Compendium of short seasonal stories
- a third Tale from Wendlebury Barrow (haven’t decided which from my bulging ideas book yet)
- Travels with my Camper Van, now jumpstarted
So look out, 2021, I’m coming for you!
Whatever your plans are for the new year, I wish you a peaceful, healthy and happy one full of whatever your heart desires.
In the meantime, if you haven’t yet read my new short story Christmas Ginger, which was published on 24th December 2020 exclusively on Helen Hollick’s Discovering Diamonds blog, you can read it here for free, for a flavour of my planned 2021 short story trilogy, May Sayers Comes Home.