What Did You Do In The Apocalypse?
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.