Authors and afternoon tea

A refreshing highlight of lockdown life is an engaging series of online gatherings hosted by the Society of Authors at which established authors and other members of the writing community gather for afternoon tea and chat.

What a joy to sit in on the easy conversation between Joanne Harris and Nicola Solomon, Chief Executive of the Society of Authors. Joanne was taking tea and questions in the ‘shed’, a creative den in her Yorkshire garden that she references often in Twitter posts.

Joanne spoke of how she is managing lockdown life as the the Covid-19 pandemic nears its peak in the United Kingdom. The acclaimed author of 16 books draws much resilience and daily discipline from her previous career as a teacher. Days take shape around a timetable that caters for an early morning run, creative work, attention to her garden and interaction with loyal followers, friends and connections on Twitter. She describes the social media platform as her ‘staffroom’, a place where she hops in and out to ‘reboot’ and connect. The solitary process of writing makes many of us hermits to some extent.

Apart from her own books, Joanne continues to connect with the work of others and finds herself currently returning to old favourites like Donna Tartt’s Secret History for ‘comfort reading’ and Georgette Heyer, for bath time indulgence! She is also reading non-fiction to ‘reset’ her fiction brain.

Nicola describes Joanne as an ‘incredibly generous’ writer who does much to advocate for others, especially through her role as the Chair of the Society of Authors. Considering the changes that a global pandemic may bring to our communities, Joanne hopes for good things among the many challenges. She feels passionately that small presses and small bookshops will need vital support especially. And while many authors are asked to share their work freely, Joanne cautions that exposure must not be regarded as a living for an author and those who issue invitations expecting authors give their professional time and work for free are urged to reflect that harsh truth is that while exposure can lead to a living, an unpaid author may also die from it.

Life in lockdown is impacting the creative community in many ways; while some feel in flow, others are frozen and struggling with poor mental health. Joanne’s advice is wise. “Writing doesn’t come from a place of stress and anxiety, it comes from a place of calm and joy and reasonable mental health. Self care comes first. “If you can get out of this feeling ok then you are already doing very well.”

Joanne’s warmth and compassion shone through the afternoon tea party and her final words to the gathering were deeply encouraging. “Be kind to each other. Be kind to yourselves. Writing will come when it comes. Don’t worry if it is not starting.”

Catch Joanne’s chat in the shed here; a Vimeo recording of this special lockdown event.

Lockdown life: seeds of hope

In the throes of a nation-wide lockdown across Britain and also throughout the world, the spectre of Covid-19 wraps itself around anxious hearts and minds.

This ruthless invisible virus has humanity in its breathless grip. As key workers and health workers labour under awkward protective masks and gloves and clothing, supplied too late and too scarce by the government, it is the moral obligation of the rest of us to stay put in our homes, with the opportunity of breaks for exercise in the outdoor world once so familiar to us and now eerily alien and emptily sombre.

Never before has my garden oasis been so important. While this private outdoor space always been precious, now it is my well being sanctuary more than ever, and I am full of gratitude for it. The opportunity to leave the enclosure of the house and step into the freshness of the spring garden is supporting my mental health, well being and creativity immensely.

Deep inside my cream painted shed, happily decorated with rusty running rabbits and festoon solar lights, were forgotten seed packets, discarded in boxes of good intentions grown thick with cobwebs and rediscovered with fresh zeal. Compost, pencilled plant names on ice lolly sticks, watering cans and bamboo canes are part of the armoury keeping fear and hopelessness at bay during this lockdown experience of pandemic.

Planting for the future melds with memories of the past; I celebrate the blossom of the cherry tree, bought from a supermarket and planted in hope of shiny red fruit. I recall buying the small souvenir envelope of giant dill on my last trip to the United States and marigold seeds harvested from the community gardens around Windsor Street in Toxteth, and I remember a glorious day and the perfumed stately white sweet peas in the garden of the Castle of May in Caithness. Each packet brings me joy and hope. And as for the cherries, the snowy blossom softens the blow of losing the fruit to the birds.

My garden energises my spirit and I love this quote attributed to Seamus Heaney, so resonant and so apt for this extraordinary time in the history of humanity.