Covid diaries: Ore Agbaje-Williams

Covid diaries: Ore Agbaje-Williams

The first time I’d worked from home – in February 2019 – I’d had a wisdom tooth taken out and the swelling made me look like Frankenstein’s monster. An understandable reason for not wanting to be in the office, and not needing to be. I worked from my room, didn’t have a desk and had never even heard of Microsoft Teams, let alone Zoom. 2020 however, has been an entirely different experience. I’ve found myself on multiple Teams or Zoom calls a day, sending messages on Teams, and receiving more emails than I thought it was possible for any single computer to actually process without bursting into flames. I have also read some incredible submissions, been in some stressful auctions, acquired some exciting projects, and opted out of turning my video on in some meetings because I know how tired I look (and how accidentally expressive my face can be).

Lockdown has been anything but easy, but I know how extremely privileged I am to still have a job, a place to live, and food to eat. For a lot of people who would also have considered themselves privileged back in February, the same can’t be said. Adapting to video calls, managing emails, workload and stress has definitely been a learning process, and not always a fun one, but I’ve learned a few things during this time regardless.

I’ve learned how to be resilient, how to be more vulnerable; that if I don’t reply to an email the moment I’ve read it, read a submission the second it comes in, or say yes to every Zoom call invitation, the world won’t end (at least not this year… hopefully?!). I’ve learned that scheduling to have lunch with someone over Teams is strange (and not the same as doing it in person) but still nice; that checking in on people is incredibly important; that finishing work at a set time is better than finishing it when you’re about to fall asleep; that sometimes lying down on your bed or closing your eyes whilst sitting at your desk for just ten minutes can make a huge difference; that TikTok isn’t just for Gen Z and can genuinely lift someone’s mood; that baking bread on Friday mornings is part of my new lockdown routine; that everyone’s experience of lockdown is different; that saying ‘I hope you’re well’ these days is more genuine than ever, and that a reading chair is exactly what I needed to get through lockdown 2.0.

I’d like to think that publishing is one of those industries that despite its very old foundations, is susceptible to positive change. The last few months have allowed a lot of publishers and their staff to have some very uncomfortable but also incredibly important conversations. It’s not at all lost on me that for specific groups, this year has been difficult in a different way. Yet, there are good things on the horizon, voices now being listened to that weren’t always at the table in the first place, programmes and protocols being put in place to improve and uplift, and in general, a feeling that out of what has been an incredibly difficult year, some positive and impactful things will come. Although things have by no means been easy, I’m grateful to be part of an industry that is full of people always pushing the boundaries and the benchmarks, and that I know a lot of them. 

I’m not entirely oblivious to the horrific pandemic going on, but I am trying to focus on the positive things going on around me, and make the most of the time I have. I’m trying to read things I wouldn’t normally read, to learn about different cultures, to take more risks and get out of my comfort zone, to think about where I want to be in the next few years, and I’m trying to be more grateful. Particularly for the friends, colleagues and family I have. I definitely would have lost my mind without them.

Ore Agbaje-Williams is editor at The Borough Press and a Bookseller 2020 Rising Star.