It's no secret that most authors are introverts. That doesn't mean that we don't enjoy bookshop events and literary festivals. Who doesn't love talking about their books or their writing process? But afterwards, we are spent, drained of energy, and need to recharge. Writing is a solitary profession. We need to be alone to think, to write, to bang our heads on the desk. When lockdown was announced many of my friends commented that it would be a walk in the park for me; I worked from home anyway, my life would barely change. They couldn't have been more wrong.
In term time I normally write between 10am and 2.30pm. The house is quiet, my partner is at work, my son is at school, and, more often than not, my dog is asleep. I can get up from my desk and wander into the kitchen for a cup of tea without my thought process being disturbed.
All that changed over lockdown. My partner Chris took over the kitchen to work from home and my eight year old son took over the living room. Chris and I split the home schooling. I did paper-based learning from 10am-11.30am, then Chris would supervise e-learning between 2pm and 3pm. The house, normally so quiet, grew noisy with the clatter of the dishwasher, Zoom meetings, music, chat, screams of Fortnite jubilation then wails of, 'I can't believe I got kicked!'
I tried to tune it out. I bought noise cancelling headphones and hid away in my study, but I couldn't write. My mind was too noisy. I was worried that my son, an only child, was lonely, that he was spending too much time online, that he was bored. I was worried about the pandemic, the skyrocketing deaths and my own chances of survival - 46, asthmatic, obese - and that of my parents, over-70 and self-isolating in the Worcestershire countryside over an hour and a half away. I knew that if they couldn't get a food delivery they would venture out to the supermarket so I stayed up past midnight every night, pressing refresh on the Tesco website, only to be told there were no slots.
I couldn't write. I couldn't think. I couldn't concentrate. It was though my brain with full of muddy cotton wool. As other families played in their gardens I sat at my desk, taking four hours to write five hundred words. I knew I was falling behind. My deadline was the first of June and, in order to meet it, I should have been writing 1,500 words a day. My stress levels rose.
And then the hardback of Strangers came out on 2nd April, at the height of the lockdown. Bookshops were shut, my tour was cancelled, one of the supermarkets stopped taking new books and my publicist was furloughed. I pressed pause on the new book and threw myself into virtual promotion. I teamed up with other lockdown authors, swapping books by post to promote and give away. I did Facebook Lives, on my own page and other authors' pages. I did Zoom panels, Q&As and readings. I set up a virtual readalong for Strangers, matching my readers into pairs so they had a someone to discuss the book with. I worked with Max Minerva's, an independent bookshop in Bristol, to send out signed copies of my hardback. Because I couldn't actually sign the books, I sat at my desk and signed bookplates and wrote handwritten notes instead.
A miracle occurred and Strangers charted at number ten in the Sunday Times Original Fiction chart. I was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to sit in my garden and relax, but I had a book to finish and another one (my young adult thriller The Island) to line edit. So on I went, balancing home schooling, family life and my career.
By this point my attention span was so poor I couldn’t read books any more, and there was one very worrying week when I couldn't even watch TV. I would cry, randomly, at the smallest thing and there were points where I genuinely thought I was on the verge of an emotional breakdown. My lowest point was when the schools re-opened and my son's year wasn't one of those going back. It was him I was gutted for, not me.
And then, in July, came my salvation. Hotels were re-opened and I booked myself into a local hotel for four days. I didn't leave my room the whole time. I ordered room service, wrote, did YouTube yoga and took long, luxurious baths. The effect on my mood was immediate. I felt calmer, more positive and less fraught. My attention span returned and I wrote thousands of words each day.
Finally, two months late, I delivered my book.
If there is one silver lining to writing a book so very slowly it's that I received the briefest editorial notes of all of my psychological thrillers. And my editor and agent both think Her Last Holiday is my best book so far. Lockdown has taught me that people pull together when times are hard and that authors are the most kind, generous and supportive of souls. And that I love schools and teachers - very, very much.
C L Taylor is a Sunday Times bestselling author. Her psychological thrillers have sold over a million copies in the UK alone, been translated into over twenty languages, and optioned for television. Her 2019 novel, Sleep, was a Richard and Judy pick. C L Taylor lives in Bristol with her partner and son.