Writing in lockdown

What day is it—March the 97th as someone asked recently? One set of 24 hours segues into the next with little to differentiate them.

COVID-19—you’ve well outstayed your welcome on planet Earth. Not that we wanted you in the first place.

But boredom and confining ourselves to our homes is a tiny price to pay when the alternative is mass infection and deaths. So far, I know five people who have had the virus and recovered. No-one close to me has died. Fingers crossed tightly that continues.

Small pleasures…

The powers that be have now deemed it okay to get in your car and drive a short distance to a local beauty spot to go for a walk. My husband has promised me a trip to his golf course and a meander over it.

One of the regulars at my online Pilates class is now a grandma. We clapped. She has seen the baby from a distance.

Any meal I make that involves a creative reimagining of ingredients retrieved from the freezer or the back of cupboards (one year old? More?).

3D book cover for Highland Chances by Emma Baird feel good fiction storiesThis new and beautiful cover for the latest novel in my Highland Books series, Highland Chances… the graphic designer who made it for me is herself finishing off her latest book—a chick lit novel that features people travelling to New Zealand and working in cafes and bars, etc.

Did it now count, she asked, as historical romance?

Highland Chances, coincidentally, touches a lot on working from home. But similar to my designer friend, the book also has that feel of a time that will not return for months if not years. People in pubs. Large gatherings. Big parties in offices. Shaking hands with strangers*.

Some weeks ago, the radio station I listen to (BBC Radio 1—I’m way, way out of their target demographic) featured a couple of stories of people who’d only been dating for a few weeks when the lockdown kicked in.

As a writer, I found that impossible to resist, even though it feels crass and exploitative… But hey, writing is truly narcissistic. That urge to put it down on paper (well, the screen) overrides everything.

Anyway, here’s the intro:

The Leap of Faith

Things I don’t know about Tom:

  • What he takes in his coffee. If he likes coffee.
  • Who he voted for in the last election. Though I think I can guess.
  • When he came to Scotland.
  • His romantic history. A childhood sweetheart? A steady girlfriend up until now? Serial monogamy? Sexual encounters too numerous to list?
  • If he has siblings. His position in the family. (As the youngest child in a family of high achievers, I place a lot of stock in older/younger sibling dynamics and how that shapes you.)
  • His second name.

And yet tomorrow we are moving in together. More specifically, Tom will pack his bags into an old Ford Focus, drive the 35 minutes it takes to cross the city (less now we are in lockdown?) where I will welcome him with open arms. And try not to bleat, “Wipe your feet!” if he doesn’t do it automatically the second he enters my home.

Modern life, hmm? That old Abba classic keeps playing in my head, Take a Chance on Me. My family and friends queue up behind me, their expressions astonished. “Sophs! You’re, like, the least impulsive person ever! Why are you doing this?”

My brother nods his head fervently. My sister threatens a visitation. One where we conduct a two metres apart conversation. It takes place. I stand in the doorway and she yells at me from the garden gate, teenage daughter in tow, her phone in hand. She glances up briefly. “Yo, Aunt!” I sketch her a wave and hope it counts as cool in her world.

“Sophie!” my sister shrieks. “What do you know about this guy? He’ll have Googled you, you idiot! I bet he’s rubbing his hands together in glee.”

Her words are nothing I haven’t already said to myself. My mum’s face shimmers in front of me. Dark hair streaked with grey and wide-tipped glasses she pushes up her nose all the time. Her mouth twitches. “Well,” she says, “this is a turn up for the books! Devil may care. I love it!” In my head, she blows me a kiss. My eyes prickle.

I close my door, thanking Josie for her concern. Darla winks at me. Fifteen-year-old approval. I wait till her mother has turned to point her key at the car and wink back. Darla lifts her phone and mouths something at me. ‘Tell me what happens, yeah?’ my best guess.

The timing couldn’t be better though. As Josie’s ginormous pristine Land Rover pulls away, a dusty black Ford Focus slowly edges its way along the street, its driver alternately peering down and up—the universal look of someone using his phone to find an address.

I wave. He stops.

“Tom!” My enthusiasm is double, treble, quadruple what it might have been. Blame it on Josie. “Welcome to my humble abode.”

He gets out of his car and swears—the f-word too loud in our now traffic-subdued streets. “Jesus!” he says, the Irish accent turning it into Jayzus. “I’d no idea you were that grand.”

Things Tom doesn’t know about me.

Everything.

Thanks for reading! Highland Chances is now available for pre-order at Amazon here, and if you want to find out if Sophie and Tom’s fledgling relationship makes it, you can read the story for free on Wattpad.

© Emma Baird 2020

*Someone suggested that we employ the late 18th/early 19th century methods of greeting people a la Jane Austen from now on—a courtly bow or a small curtsey. An excellent idea, hmm?

Chester, Covid-19 and keeping your distance

Are you all safe and well? Fingers crossed that is the case if you are reading this. I hope you and the ones you love are okay.

This week, we went to Chester for a minibreak, a holiday booked months ago. By the time Sunday arrived, the doubts had set in—was it safe? Did it make us irresponsible to go ahead with it? As this was pre the isolation advice, we decided to go ahead…

Sunday through till the Monday afternoon was okay—the trains, restaurants, hotel and bars quieter than normal, though it was hard to judge as I’d never been to Chester before. Nothing to compare. Then the announcement went out that people should stay at home as much as possible, and avoid ‘unnecessary’ contact.

Chester Zoo

The following day dawned… my birthday. What to do? Chester is famous for its zoo, which features regularly on Channel 4’s The Secret Life of the Zoo. Was it still open? Yes. To do our bit for social distancing, we walked the three and a half miles there instead of taking the bus figuring we might as well add in immunity-boosting exercise.

The lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) regarded we gawping humans through half-closed eyes—their fears and worries only immediate. Where’s my food and is anyone stealing it/trying to hunt or fight me?

Enough to make you jealous of such simplistic thought processes, hmm?

Up close to the jaguars

Chester does a fair bit for conservation, reflected in the animals it keeps. Sumatran tigers (magnificent), painted dogs (fabulous looking), African elephants, orangutans and more. On the day, I got the closest to a big cat I suspect I will ever get. The jaguar enclosure had a large simulated-jungle bit undercover and one of them wandered right next to me as I stood next to the glass panel.

A privilege indeed.

Later, we stopped off at one of the Wetherspoons in Chester where people drank defiantly. Eat, drink and be merry… for tomorrow we die, right?! The manager told us later they were asking customers to sit at alternate tables and buy drinks by card payment only.

Quieter than normal, he said, but what to do but stay open when Wetherspoons employs some 43,000 people in the UK?

They’ve no choice now anyway, as pubs, cafes and restaurants were ordered to close on Friday—the government promising employees will get paid.

The joy of birdsong

One thing that struck me while we were in Chester… Sandy and I took ourselves out for a few walks. The city walls, down by the river and along the canal, and everywhere I heard plenty of birdsong and saw lots of birds. Isn’t it likely so much staying at home will benefit the wildlife in this country as it puts a temporary stop to human encroachment?

Come Tuesday evening, the visitor attractions in Chester began to close. Restaurants and cafes stayed open but were empty. Service was attentive and quick in all the places we went into as staff pounced, glad of something to do.

We cut our holiday short.

The lucky ones

Back home—one eerily quiet train journey later stations overrun by staff with little to do—I know I’m one of the lucky ones. Type 1 diabetes aside, I’m healthy. I don’t work in the hospitality or retail industries. I’m not trying to find work and my part-time job is easily do-able from home. Ditto the copy writing I do on behalf of clients.

At some point, people will need entertainment, which might lead to a surge in e-book sales. Perhaps people will crave the escapism of romcoms with happily ever after endings such as the ones I write.

One cheery story here—Man proposes in Iceland.

Finally, I have an amazing partner and family—all of whom will make the next few frightening months easier to bear. How will people on their own cope? Or those in unhappy/abusive relationships? People who need care, rely on visitors if they are housebound or who are homeless? I know this sounds trite, but I hope I can find some small way to help those who aren’t as fortunate as me…

Stay safe, sanitise and don’t panic buy, folks!