What Did You Do In The Apocalypse?

Great Britain

I feel like one of those determined cellmates in a prison movie, the one who finds new ways of exercising in a tiny space and keeps peering at a shaft of sunlight falling through the bars. Except that there’s no sunlight.

I’m not after a physical workout but a mental one. For those who just joined, the ’28 Days Later’ scenario which began in the UK on March 23rd 2020 coincided with the start of my cancer treatment. Nine months later the appearance of the new super-strain Covid and subsequent super-lockdown coincided with the return of my enemy and a new chemotherapy regime. But for me as a writer the biggest problem remains the lack of stimulus.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been working from home for fifteen years and love it. I don’t have children to worry about, or an office to keep control of. For me there are simple keys to making it work.

Always have a schedule.

Build your day around your energy levels.

Always set a table.

Plan your breaks and plan meals.

Take walks to specific destinations. (So far this week I’ve been on three strolls using the three-volume ‘London’s Hidden Walks’.)

While you work, keep a stack of books around that may inspire you.

Don’t read any speculative press articles (you’ll be amazed how many much reading this rule removes).

Mesh schedules with others so you can talk on the phone without them needing to rush off.

I thought I’d meet people during my many dull hospital appointments, but of course nobody wants to chat in hospitals. The staff are too busy and the patients don’t need introspection. I see now that hospitals are battery farms; you go into the process and through it, and sometimes you come out of the other end.  At this point it seems best to retreat into the imagination.

My home is open plan and as there are two of us working here there needs to be give and take. That’s easier to factor in if you know each other’s schedules. My working day has specific cut-off times. It’s better to stop in mid-flow, knowing that you’ll hit the ground running the next day.

Outside of work, pour s’amuser bien, there’s the neighbour bubble, history books for research and novels for pleasure, cards (I’m being taught and may now be hooked), Spanish lessons (lapsing), exercise (impossible at the moment), movies (I have 220 of them to get through prior to voting in the upcoming Baftas) and somewhere at the very back, TV.

I’m not good at passivity; watching telly is a struggle, just as it had been for my father, who always stood beside our tiny set while jingling the change in his pockets. He never once saw the beginning or the end of any programme. I had no idea terrestrial TV was now so bad. A glimpse at Channel 4 reveals it has become some kind of freak-show porn network. Netflix has some indie fare, and while I love good shows there are simply too many about the same handful of subjects. But all this is merely watching, so I return to bash the laptop.

But publishing has slowed. Luckily I have the Bryant & May books to work on, as nothing else is selling. My head is filled with new project ideas, a couple of them collaborative, but the market is retrogressive and safe now and I’m in my sixties, so it’s right that new readers see themselves reflected in their reading matter. An introspective society has been pushed further into introspection.

I’m technically retired (as if writers ever stop working) so I can write what I want and not worry about the market. But that’s always been my rule of thumb – if you want your voice to emerge, be disciplined but don’t write to the market. And perhaps that applies to Lockdown too. If you want to stay stimulated, follow your own specially created rules.





18 comments on “What Did You Do In The Apocalypse?”

  1. Liz Thompson says:

    Own created rules. Yes, a hundred times yes. Do what you can, not what you can’t is a suitable admonition to all creators, activists, and mental or physical health sufferers. Every time I overstretch myself whether out of guilt, duty, or plain enthusiasm, I end up ill, unable to do anything at all, and someone else has to pick up the half-done bits and pieces.
    And please don’t write what they tell you is fashionable, sellable, likely-to-win-awards. There’s far too much of it out there already, and they seem to invent new genre names twice a week. I like your books, the memoir ones, Bryant and May, the short stories, the one-offs. I read across the genres anyway, having a magpie mind, so the more variety and differences the better.

  2. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    Please carry on writing what you want. There are plenty of us who want to read it.

  3. Barbara Boucke says:

    Thank you, as always, for your thoughts – as well as Liz Thompson’s on this occasion. There is no one else in my home here in Sonoma County, CA aside from a cantankerous cat. So, my almost 74 year old self makes the rules that enable me to get thru three years of fires, high wind warnings, potential blackouts, and now the virus. If I overdue for whatever the reason – as Liz wisely says – I pay the penalty. Write as you want to write – if that makes any sense. You have to stay true to your voice. I am still catching up with the Bryant and Mays between “The Water Room” and “Oranges and Lemons” and am at “Ten Second Staircase”. It is nice to watch the characters evolve, to wander around London as I read, and to enjoy the story itself as well. Take care.

  4. MaryR says:

    Own rules – yes, yes,yes. And if these can coincide with ‘the treat’ you mentioned in a previous post, then please bring it on on bucketfuls.
    All best.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    What I don’t understand is why I don’t spend masses of times doing the things I always enjoyed. I have to whip myself to do any calligraphy at all and I haven’t got out quilting materials since our group shut in March. I don’t knit quickly so I’m only now finishing my husband’s sweater. (It’s taken months and fine yarn only excuses it for so long). I’m reading in most spare moments – reading the Smiley books after someone mentioned Eric Ambler but our library is shy of those so resorted to those. We just had the documentary about HSBC on our local tv and I enjoyed that meshing with The Honourable Schoolboy, which is set in Hong Kong.
    I’ve read the first three Gereon Berlin crime stories but I have to wait for our library to process those beyond number three. Yet another reason to wish I’d been able to do German. Perhaps that’s what I should do – find a beginner’s German workbook. Huh! My French is nothing to write home about so adding another badly understood language doesn’t seem wise.
    Why worry about wise? I’m 78 and doing nothing else, so why not?

  6. Roger says:

    “cards (I’m being taught and may now be hooked)… ”
    There are quite a few card games actually – which are you learning? Stay away from online poker, but online bridge is better than face-to-face. Both are intellectually challenging though.

    Talleyrand was once told by a young woman that she didn’t play cards or want to. “Then you’re going to have a very unhappy old age.” he replied.

    “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” – and the future too, I hope.

  7. Paul C says:

    Fiction writers can’t compete with yesterday’s events in Washington. If novelists had written about a President refusing to admit he’s lost and inciting an armed invasion of government buildings it would have seemed too
    fantastic. What next ?

  8. Helen Martin says:

    Paul C: Impeachment? Exercise of the 25th Amendment? Total quiet and a calm turnover on Jan 20th? All seem equally strange at this point.

  9. Paul C says:

    Even stranger – Trump is now considering granting himself a pardon before he leaves office. I’m really not making this up……

  10. Jan says:

    Mr. FOWLER I think you might have bought the wrong mask!!

    Hope all ok.

  11. Jan says:

    So do you reckon buying the wrong mask is wot you did during the apocalypse?

  12. Derek j Lewis says:

    Nice pen Mr. Fowler. Have you used a Platinum 3776? I’ve had one with an extra fine nib for years and keep going back to it.

  13. Helen Martin says:

    I don’t suppose you had a bang up party for Twelfth Night, did you, Chris. Ah well, perhaps next year.
    Derek, the Platinum 3776? I don’t know that one. I haven’t even been downtown to my pen shop since March lockdown. Where do you sit where ink is concerned? I’ve been very happy with Private Reserve but am experimenting with Monteverde USA Amethyst supposedly made from amethysts and Aqua Ink made in Germany. Haven’t come to conclusions yet.

  14. Louise Smith says:

    Sending you many good wishes and hopes for a better tomorrow!

  15. Ian Luck says:

    Helen – I’m a big fan of those ‘Berlin Babylon’ novels, too. They’re very evocative. They certainly feel right – the atmosphere is very close to that of the Peter Lorre movie, ‘M’, or the various ‘Dr Mabuse’ movies, produced in the early 1930’s, before the Nazis shat over everything intelligent.

  16. Ian Luck says:

    Hitler loved Fritz Lang’s movies, and tried to get him to make films for the Nazis – Lang’s wife, screen writer Thea Von Harbou, was a fervent Nazi, and had assured Hitler that Lang would be honoured. Lang was horrified by the suggestion, and fled to the USA as soon as he could.

  17. Ian Luck says:

    I’d send the National Guard into the White House, and have the spoiled brat dragged out in handcuffs. Trump does not deserve any respect: he has none himself, and only deserves the ire and ridicule of right minded people. He also needs to be made ineligible from trying to get back in the ‘Responsibility Seat’ in 2024. You want to know what a Malignant Narcissist looks like? Donald Trump. A pathetic excuse for a human being.

  18. Helen Martin says:

    However, Ian, you rang a warning bell with “right minded people.” He needs to be judged on his record and his decisions. If his record is bad then even wrong minded people (whoever they are) should agree to his guilt regarding something. That is as mild mannered as I can get, but the right minded phrase did almost literally ring a bell.

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