In 2018 I got an idea for a story. I worked on it through NANOWRIMO that year and beyond. My novel opens into a lockdown scenario in which a pregnant woman is locked inside with a small child. It was supposed to be speculative fiction.
I thought I was was creating a scenario the general population wouldn’t have experienced.
Then we all got locked down.
The lockdown in my work in progress is due to a toxic event – the outside environment is too toxic for either the main character or her child to spend much time without being exposed to dangerous toxicity.
I spent the months from April to August living my own novel – to a certain extent. There was material everywhere.
The only difference was I could leave the house, I could go into my garden, plant tomatoes, my children could climb trees.
When my husband wasn’t working I could get out and go for a run. I ran on empty roads, giving anyone I happened to pass a wide berth and breathed deep the air that was probably cleaner than it had been for years. I admired the gardens blooming, the historic architecture and the piercing beauty of the Edinburgh skyline.
I will admit one of my sadnesses early on in lockdown was feeling like the work of my novel was being washed away by our new reality. But once the tidal wave of the early grief passed I was able to see that although the novel had changed it still has its place. I kept writing.
Since lockdown the unfamiliar has become commonplace. And yet the prickling unease of my scenario – in which it is not a virus which poses a danger, but the poisoned environment hangs over us.
During lockdown I distilled the idea of my novel down into a 500 word story which made the longlist of the Primadonna Festival prize, and I wrote an essay about my garden to go along with the socially distanced photographs taken by Anna Deacon for the book For the Love of Trees. It felt good to see my words about the impact of being shut in, about the centrality of nature to our everyday lives connecting with readers.
The trees – the freedom to run, the clean air – these are things my characters are locked away from, and 2020 has shown us how much we value our greenspaces, our rivers, forests, beaches. So I keep writing.
Lockdown / novel research reading:
Notes from the Apocalypse – Mark O’Connell
Hazelwood – Tom Doig
Chernobyl: History and Tragedy – Serhii Ploky
The Growing Season – Helen Sedgwick
Goldilocks – Laura Lam