I found a note on my phone the other day, dated March 4th, 2020; it listed the ways in which my team at work might be able to cope with what we thought could be ‘a possible two-week office closure.’
"Don’t panic the team", I had written, "set up Dropbox" and "check who has a personal laptop". The first point was one I strived hard to do, whilst panicking, it has to be said, quite a lot inside. I am a natural worrier, and my brain always jumps to worst-case scenario anyway, so in a lot of ways, 2020 has been the year I always thought was coming, a realising of my worst fears. (To be clear I am in no way a psychic; I just always think something bad is going to happen,)
Anyway, as we all know: reader, it was not a two-week office closure. Nine months later, I’m sitting at home checking the page proofs for my next novel, doom-scrolling through Twitter, and playing with my kittens (the absolute high point of lockdown was getting two little black cats). We’ve been working from home since March, we all have laptops, and we all have access to Dropbox.
As someone who is both an editor and an author, the last nine months have been weird. For most of the year, during the day I was sending regular updates to my list of (brilliant) authors, telling them cheerfully not to worry, that their books were still going to sell, that we were doing everything we could to continue functioning as a publishing division, and that if they wanted more time to write, they could have it. The evenings were a different matter – my own book was due to publish in May 2020, and I was convinced it would be a complete disaster.
"We just have to get through April," my agent wrote to me, but April came and went and not that much changed. In the end, it was actually fine – my third novel came out on a hot sunny day, my boyfriend and I celebrated (at home, obvs) and my editor, agent and I toasted The Babysitter via Zoom. It was one of the loveliest days I have had all year – I gave myself a few hours off obsessively reading the news (though I was back on it by midnight), and all in all, the book has sold pretty well. Around getting ready for publication, I was also writing my fourth book (The Wild Girls, out in April 2021) and so during the long, quiet weekends of Lockdown 1 I let my imagination take me to Botswana, creating a world in which Covid didn’t exist and the main thing my characters had to worry about was a secret in their past rather than a horrible new disease.
I was one of the lucky writers, in that I found it much easier to write in lockdown – usually, it’s a balancing act between my day job, writing, and a social life, but remove the social life and the whole thing became a lot more manageable. However, my heart absolutely went out to my own authors, some of whom were really struggling with the creative process, many of whom had young kids at home, not to mention other worries. I did my best to keep it all in perspective – we could push back publication dates, we could find ways through it, and at the end of the day, our health was what mattered. Worrying over one-star Amazon reviews became a thing of the past (sort of – I’m watching you, Margaret from Gloucester). But it was undoubtedly strange being the voice of reason to my authors during the day, counselling them on the very things I too was worried about. Rationally, I knew their books would still sell, but the emotional part of me was struggling to believe what I was typing.
I think it is testament to our wonderful industry that throughout 2020, one of the main things I have realised is how much we all want to stay connected – editors, authors, and those of us who do both. My partner works in a very different industry, and he doesn’t understand why I spend almost eight hours a day on Teams, talking to my colleagues, or why I put kisses on the end of the majority of my emails. Listening in to his own calls is amusing: "Yep, done, thanks, bye," is quite a contrast to me: "how was your weekend, are you OK, look at my kitten, did you listen to the new Taylor Swift song, what did you think of that book?"
The publishing industry is full of creative, warm, friendly people who will endure the hideousness of video calls in order to remain somehow in sync, and that is something I have been extremely grateful for all year. It is obvious to me that we are stronger together, and that the publishing industry thrives on connection. Dropbox or no dropbox. Xx.
Phoebe Morgan is editoral director at HarperFiction and Avon, and an author.