Lockdown diaries: the book club founder

It happened so suddenly. One moment I was at work, bleaching everything in sight, using extra splashes of Dettol - that infamous Caribbean Aunty staple with a distinct smell that will instantly take a first generation immigrant child back to memories of early Saturday morning cleaning sessions - whenever I suspected a colleague may have compromised my office. Drinking cups of cerasee tea, a Jamaican cure-all, to ward off 'The Virus' - which at that point I wasn't taking very seriously at all. 

The next, my office was shut. Completely locked down. Our building is notoriously open 24/7 and I doubt it has ever been empty in the last 100 years. I then began to realise just how serious everything was becoming.

Sensing the opportunity, I escaped to the Shires. To my new home, that I had been quietly decorating with my husband to get 'just right' before moving in. Taking with me my little sister, who had decided she too wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of London and stay with me for the weekend until things settled down. 

What we didn't know what the weekend would become three long months in lockdown. Having contact with no one else but my sister and husband in our little bubble.

Initially our days consisted of us staying up all night on three laptops trying to capture Ocado deliveries, baking big batches of sprinkle cakes with lashing of vanilla custard to remind us of school days, binging on shows like "Tiger King", "Love is Blind" and "Monogamy".

Then we started looking at ensuring we left lockdown improved. Shinier versions of ourselves. That consisted of my sister and I spending ridiculous amounts of money on skincare and Pat McGrath makeup, and buying matching gym gear to run around our local lake. We gave up running quite quickly and instead wore the gym gear whilst eating the aforementioned cake and custard.

For me, lockdown has been a complete revelation. A moment for big changes. I've had some incredible big wins during those initial three months - I've moved into a new home, started a new job. The thought of being on-boarded remotely and completing appraisals for a team of staff I had never met in person was initially terrifying. But I did it. 

I've celebrated big milestones - it's not easy to cook an entire feast, decorate the house with balloons and streamers, hide a huge cake and plan a surprise birthday party, when no one can leave - but I somehow cracked it. 

Judging the British Book Awards 2020 and having the opportunity to be a keynote speaker at the Bookseller Marketing and Publicity conference was a joy - missing out on doing this in real life however, was  a real shame. 

Natalie [co-founder of the Black Girls' Book Club] and I were ready to catwalk strut into both venues in jewel tones, thigh splits, hair laid and vertingous heels. 

Instead it was cups of tea as we tried to get the lighting just right for numerous video conferences. 

I also continued the process of writing my debut book - GROWN: The Black Girls Guide to Growing Up - an ode to Black British Girlhood and a celebration of our Caribbean culture. Detailing things that Black girls need to know like - like how to deep condition their hair and look after their skin, as well as navigating issues such as misogynoir and anti-Blackness. It's quite good. Pre-order it!

Everyones favourite Aunty author, Dorothy Koomson, name-checked Natalie and me in her new novel All My Lies Are True - a sequel to her hit The Ice Cream Girls, and another drama-filled thriller. There is no mistaking why Aunty Dorothy is one Britain's biggest selling Black author of adult fiction. It's brilliant. Buy it! 

I learned to cook! No longer am I popping a Charlie Bingham meal in the oven and declaring I'm a masterchef. I've made my favourite restaurant meals from scratch such as the infamous Duck and Waffle, I've single-handedly prepared seafood risotto and mastered the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. My cupboard is filled with harissa paste, tahini and truffle cream, and I've actually quite enjoyed using cooking as method of self care on days I need to de-stress. 

But there has also been great loss. Like many across the globe, I felt that piercing pain in my chest as George Floyd repeatedly asked for his mother as he took his last breath. I also suffered a personal loss, with a bereavement just days after lockdown officially ended. Like many Black British people, I clapped and stamped my feet when Edward Colston's statue was toppled and thrown into the river. I also took notice of those who posted their Black squares in threes on their social media pages so as to not ruin the aesthetic. 

Navigating this time as a Black woman has been tough, and now more than ever I recognise why safe spaces such as Black Girls Book Club are so sorely needed. 

The sisterhood we have created is more than just talking about books and boys. It's an education. You leave feeling edified. 

During these times I have been part of numerous group chats and video conferences discussing politics and the realities of anti-Blackness, misogynoir and the impact of negative tropes. The #PublishingPaidMe debate has set my 'Authoress' group chat alight. We were absolutely flabbergasted at the huge amounts being paid to unknown authors whilst literary greats were offered pennies in comparison. I think I've received more memes, think pieces and video calls in the last three months than I have in all 32 years of my life. But it's not the same as being the same room as a friend, joking and hearing the deep cackle as you share salacious news.

I've never wanted to brunch, gossip and pay 20 quid for a cocktail. I'm literally begging for it at this point!

Melissa Cummings-Quarry is the co-founder and director of the award-winning events and lifestyle platform Black Girls Book Club. She publishes her debut non-fiction book GROWN with Bloomsbury in Spring 2021.