How lockdown gave birth to a new novel

My guess is that there are quite a number of people out there who have secretly been enjoying lockdown. And who are now feeling a little saddened that things are gradually getting back to normal as restrictions ease and country after country slowly but surely prepares to return to normal life.

Of course there are even more people out there for whom a gradual easing back to normality will be hugely welcome. I certainly don’t mean to decry the suffering a lot of families have undergone during the last three months – not only through fear of contracting the coronavirus itself, or perhaps knowing someone who has perished by it, but also through the economic devastation that has affected so many lives. So I guess it’s easy for me, being one of the lucky few whose job has not been adversely affected, to say that yes, I for one have actively enjoyed this very special, existential period of the world’s slow turning.

Why? For various reasons. Firstly, the tremendous sense of peace it has given me, both within and without. And that is certainly something that’s rarely felt in our hectic, pressurised lives. At the height of lockdown here in Krakow, it was a sheer pleasure to walk around almost-deserted streets, parks, riverside boulevards and the main market square, all of which are normally heaving with loud, invasive throngs of tourists. It was a pleasure not to go the wretched Galeria Krakowska (the main shopping mall in Krakow) because it was all but closed – a ghost town of shuttered shops, empty cafes and deserted walkways. Only Carrefour was open, plus one solitary pet shop, much to my Belgian Malinois’ convenience. But other than that – just silence, emptiness, peace.

And then the street where I live – normally bogged down on week days by slow-moving traffic (thereby marring the otherwise beautiful river view from my house) … what an unadulterated joy to be able to sit on the window seat in my living room and gaze out at the gently flowing Vistula river, unimpeded by cars chugging along beside it! Ahhhh … peace and quiet strikes again!

And all this new online mode of work – all these Zoom meetings, Skype talks, increased email contact … okay, so maybe your backbone and eyes can begin to get a bit tired after sitting in front of the laptop for so much of the day, but personally, I have welcomed a break from ‘normal’ routine. After years and years of always leaving the house in a rush, always running hell for leather for the tram, always hurrying down the street to our international school, always, always last-minute, it’s a sheer luxury to be able to just sit at my kitchen table with a mug of coffee at hand, a sleeping dog by my feet, and an imminent work-meeting about to begin just with the click of a finger.

And the funny thing is, it’s not even as if this slower, stay-at-home pace of life has made me grow lethargic, pudgy and indolent. You know, stuffing myself with cake and junk food all day long and lolling on the sofa in sheer boredom. Oh no, quite the contrary! Now that I’m forced to spend so much of the day at home, it means that my dog, Bruno the Mad Malinois, has discovered he possesses previously unknown powers of persuasion, all of which bully me into taking him on more walks than before, and longer ones. I easily give in, because otherwise I’d go mad with his constant nudging me in the thigh, and staring at me with those intense, deeply imploring eyes that silently cry out: Walkies NOW please! So not only have I evaded becoming squidgy and indolent, I’ve actually become a super-fit, work-at-home writer, educator and dog-owner!

Ah, yes. The Writing. Almost forgot about that. After all, that’s the title of this post, right? How lockdown gave birth to a new novel. So in a nutshell, all the above points depict how it did precisely that. The unique state of peace and quiet that I’ve been blessed with these last few months has provided me with a surplus of inspiration, creativity and drive. Whether it’s been helped by the beauty of the ancient flowing river outside my house, at last unimpeded by cars; or by the magic of the silent streets, sleepy squares and emptied parks in this enchanting city, now blissfully freed of its fast-track, heaving, thumping, pre-lockdown existence, who can tell?

Life has somehow become surreal. It’s as though the world were moving along with us, hand in hand, rather than shoving us along from behind, or racing ahead of us, every now and then turning round to yell: Come ON, you there – will you HURRY UP, for God’s sake?!

The only voice now telling me to come on and hurry up is my own inner voice. Thanks to lockdown, I’ve had the mental freedom to create new lives, new times, new place settings, new dialogues … a parallel virtual world with which to pepper my online existence. And that’s absolutely fine by me.

Thanks to lockdown, I am now almost halfway through the first draft of my latest novel. At this rate, I should be finished by the end of summer! Whoopie!

Finally – and just out of interest – Once Upon a Thousand Hills was born out of my first trip to Rwanda and led to the end of my marriage. My latest novel has been born out of Coronavirus lockdown, and will lead to …


Any guesses?

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