Stay Home – A Year of Writing Through Lockdown is the first book published by the Community Interest Company myself and author Sim Alec Sansford run, Chasing Driftwood Writing Group. The book has been published under Chasing Driftwood Books and we hope there will be many more to come. In fact, we will be annoucning a brand new community writing project very soon!
So, what is Stay Home about and why did we put it together?
At the start of the Covid 19 pandemic, I turned almost daily to my blog to write about my fears and experiences as a nationwide lockdown saw the closing of schools, colleges and workplaces. The majority of us stayed home. We watched the world from our windows, took our daily walks, and turned to music, books and streaming services to entertain us. We also turned to gardening, pets and chicken-keeping! For a short while, our lives stopped and a new reality took over. As my blog posts and ponderings piled up, I decided to open up my blog to guests who might want to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences of life under lockdown. I had in mind at this point that putting together an anthology to publish under Chasing Driftwood would be a good plan. So, we opened it up to even more people, including the adults and children who attend our writing clubs and workshops.
We were overwhelmed by the wonderful submissions of personal essays, stories and poetry and we soon had a decent sized anthology on our hands.
It’s been a great learning experience for myself and Sim. Of course, as self-published authors ourselves we understand the process of compiling a manuscript, formatting, editing, proofreading, choosing a front cover and uploading to Amazon, but there were still new things to learn along the way. We would like to publish more anthologies in the future written by the people we work with, so Stay Home was a fantastic opportunity to learn from.
It has been published under Chasing Driftwood Books and is available now in ebook and paperback from Amazon. All the money from book sales will go back into the CIC to help fund our next community writing project. If you re interested in reading the book and supporting emerging writers and our next project, then here is the link to check it out.
Two weeks before the kids were due to break up for the summer holidays, some of us felt a bit ill. Nothing too serious. Blocked noses, headaches, sneezing. My youngest had a few days off school just in case and then on the Tuesday my oldest daughter felt worse so we decided to do a covid test. To our shock it came back as positive. She did a second just in case and that was positive too. The rest of us did tests which were all negative but of course we all had to isolate for ten days just in case. One by one in that time period we all started to test positive and my husband developed all of the classic symptoms. He got quite poorly with a suspected lung infection which luckily the doctor was able to diagnose over the phone and prescribe antibiotics for. My mum was able to collect them for him. We had to isolate for two weeks in total and as you can imagine, this didn’t go down too well with my teenagers who were so looking forward to enjoying the summer with their friends. We finally came out of what felt like the longest two weeks of our lives last Wednesday.
It feels ironic that almost a year and a half after the pandemic began, after three lockdowns, masks, hand sanitising, social distancing and vaccinations, Covid finally caught up with us just as ‘freedom day’ was announced. If you’re not in the UK you might not be aware that our government has decided that we can now all just make our own minds up about covid precautions and restrictions. Masks are no longer mandatory, neither is social distancing and in September, the children will no longer be organised into bubbles at school or sent home to isolate if a classmate tests positive. I think the idea is that as most of the population are now vaccinated, we need to learn to live with the virus and take responsibility for our own precautions.
For me, it all feels a bit futile. We did everything we could to avoid catching it but we caught it anyway. And now, the safety nets are being withdrawn so it will be sink or swim for many people out there. And yes, I know that for the majority of people catching covid means a week or so of feeling poorly. But my mother-in-law and my mother are both extremely vulnerable with on-going and serious health conditions and the thought of either of them catching covid now is a huge worry for us. Learning to live with the virus for them may mean staying at home for good in order to stay safe.
It also needs mentioning that catching covid once doesn’t mean you won’t catch it again and having to isolate each time you catch it means a significant loss of income, as sick pay in the UK is terribly inadequate. Despite being double jabbed, I am probably more frightened of catching it again than ever before. We simply cannot afford to be ill.
I didn’t feel particularly ill. When I first tested positive on the lateral flow test I had no symptoms at all, other than the cold I’d had the week before when I was negative. The PCR tests came back promptly and confirmed the positive results. A few days later I had a couple of days of feeling light-headed, queasy and just ‘not right’. It felt a bit like a hangover, to be honest. Every time I tried to do something my head started to pound and I would have to sit down again. Luckily this passed after a few days and I am completely fine now. It took longer for my husband to recover but he is now back to work and feeling a bit more tired than usual but otherwise fine. Hopefully this means no ‘long covid’ for us, as we really could not afford any more time off work.
I did not have serious symptoms at all, but I had to stay at home and watch my children suffer. My youngest two have missed yet more schooling. My eldest has missed work and lost money. My other daughter reacted very badly to having to stay home when she has already missed out on so much. She did not get to sit her GCSE’s last year, or have a leaving prom, or sign leaving books…She started college in September and after that we had two more lockdowns and online learning. She did not get to socialise with friends last summer and she is overwhelmed right now with the feeling that she will not get a summer again this year. Her mental health has taken a battering and I have no way to fix it for her, other than call the doctor for help and keep her talking. I feel so useless.
When covid came to call, it finally found a way in. It got past our defences and our masks and our jabs and turned everything upside down again. When covid came to call it revealed a frightening truth about our daughter’s fragile mental health and an even uglier one about the lack of mental health support for young people in this country right now. It’s nothing short of criminal. When covid came to call, it arrived during an oppressive heat wave we could do nothing to escape from and forced us to look on while friends and family on social media posted pictures of fun days out enjoying the freedom we now have again. When covid came to call, it reminded us of why we were so frightened to catch it in the first place: we cannot afford to lose work or income.
I am relieved that we all got through it with our health still intact. We are all choosing to continue to wear face coverings and sanitise our hands as often as we can. We eat healthily and do all we can to boost our immune systems naturally. But we are all genuinely terrified of catching it again, purely because we will have to isolate again, lose work, lose income and sit trapped inside our home once again. No thanks! I don’t think we could do it again! It was much harder than the lockdowns because you knew the whole country was stuck at home. Isolating is something else entirely. It would be doable if it were just me…I would spend the time writing, reading and gardening, but when you have three teens who want to be out enjoying the summer, mental health not at its best and a seven year old who is hard to entertain at the best of times….Ugh, no thank you. We will be doing all we can to avoid catching it again!
Welcome to another guest post for my ‘Hello Home…’ pandemic themed feature. It would seem all of us have experienced or are still experiencing a lockdown of some sort while the corona virus continues to blight our lives. Although we are all in the same situation, we experience it differently because our homes are all so different. Thinking about this inspired me to write a piece a few weeks ago dedicated to my house and what it has meant to me during these strange and unsettling times. I then decided to reach out to others who might want to talk about what their home has meant to them during the pandemic. Today please welcome my oldest sister Danette. My sister lives in a beautiful 500 year old cottage that must have seen so many societal changes over the years so I was really pleased when she agreed to write this for the blog!
Inside Out by Danette Moorish
It feels a bit like that doesn’t it? Life under lockdown. Inside out and upside down and turned on a sixpence until like children blindfolded at a birthday party game we lurch forward into our days, stumbling, arms outstretched , not knowing quite what to hold on to or indeed what there even is to hold on to.
I have lived in 10 homes since I entered this world 50 years ago. I started life living at my nan’s house, I retreated back there in my teens when after leaving home rather too young my world became a scary place. I moved from bedsit to flat, to another flat, to another. One was a gloriously rambling maisonette over an antique shop which I believe is still there, a gem through whose windows I would gaze, feeling that as a teenager I probably was not their text book customer but longing to drink in the wonders that laid within. I eventually bought my nan’s house living there for years until a move to rural North Dorset brought about living in a completely different kind of home to that I had so far experienced.
The Doll’s House as I fondly call it was incredibly small and yet within its walls the life changing blows of facing the fact my marriage was quite frankly an appalling place to be and that I had to replace the roof overhead as a now single working mum of 4 year old twins and all that entailed reverberated in them like a blast from a cannon.
I found work as Housekeeper at an ancient Manor House that provided a tied cottage and life fell into a swift new routine of learning on my feet, raising my children who had just started at the local village primary school and tending the small flock of sheep, geese and hens that came with my job. Life was little short of exhilarating as I found myself surrounded by all things I loved, beautiful buildings, history and the countryside. Living in the countryside as I had first discovered when I moved to the area meant navigating delights such as soak aways and septic tanks, rickety electrics, lengthy powercuts and being snowed in. With much hilarity and the large streak of optimism I thankfully own I had a full and happy life.
That life was neatly ordered into routine, work, home, school and being outside. Everything was very separate and to some possibly monotonous, dare I say it even dull or boring but to me it gave me a strong framework for my daughters and I to thrive in.
Planets align, paths are revealed and obstacles clear and destiny had us three turn into us four and with my now darling husband, move this time into his grandparents house. A move that took us back towards the coast into rural West Dorset to live in an achingly old ramshackle Cobb and thatch farmhouse with only a well for water, minimal electric supply and all the holes in the thatch and windows that you could throw your earnings at.
This house has stood here for over 500 years and there’s good reason to think there has been a dwelling here going back longer than that, maybe even back as far as the 14th century when lockdown life back then was due to the Great Plague.
Oh how easy it would be to navigate the choppy waters of a global pandemic if it just meant better flea and rodent control along with a huge jump in basic sewerage systems and personal hygiene- do read the superb Minette Walters The Last Hours and it’s follow up The Turn of Midnight for a compelling insight into lockdown life circa 1348, there are similarities with issues of division, mistrust, blame and confusion.
In 2020 we found ourselves sheltered within thick walls of mud and straw bound together with the blood and urine of long dead animals yet compared to all other testing times that have beheld the previous occupants we now shelter here with electricity, a full larder and store cupboard, running water and all the delights that modern plumbing has brought us, yes we upgraded from the well dear reader. My holiday accommodation business slammed shut and my husband’s business, a QS in construction in the hospitality and leisure industry ( double ouch) meant we for the first time in our lives found ourselves at home with no ‘work’.
We had time to finally enjoy our home. And there in is ‘it’ for me. I believe as well as sheltering us our homes should be things that bring us great joy. I’ll hand over to William Morris for he worded it perfectly a long time ago. ‘ Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful , or believe to be beautiful’. Absolutely. I decided long ago to surround myself with things that bring me joy. Call me trivial but I get immense pleasure from drinking from a beautiful mug than an ugly one, it matters not if it is chipped, it is not perfection that brings me joy, far from it, it is beauty. So the first lockdown gave us this chance to throw all our doors and windows wide open, the warm Spring egged us on as we sorted and cleaned. Not just perfunctory but proper old fashioned Spring cleaning! We turfed out cupboards, we sorted papers and wardrobes. As the days lengthened we ventured into sheds and garages, we were unstoppable and all that being busy helped tremendously to giving our minds something to focus on, and after all when we were weary from the endless news we could turn it off and go and find a shady spot in the garden or park to sit in.
The world slowly began to turn again and whilst my husband’s job remained sadly static, mine burst back into life as our shepherd’s hut and outbuilding conversion filled with city weary folk desperate for the sight of rolling green hills to feast their eyes on. Life went from zero to 100mph and our home became again something we sped through or collapsed into after a busy day. Soon little jobs began to pile up again, little piles of ‘stuff’, oh how I loathe ‘stuff’.
Yet before we had time to grumble too much November had us slamming on the anchors again and this time it felt different. With the calendar turned to the last but one month of the year it felt as if the house hunkered down around us as the first bad weather of the Winter hit. I found myself lying on the sofa in the living room writing long letters to friends whilst my husband sat listing to records in the sitting room and the girls did what ever it is teenagers do on the internet up in their rooms ( don’t ask they wont tell you!) As I sat there I could actually feel the house holding us. Holding us safe. All with space to have privacy when we needed it and room to regroup when we needed that too and having lived in a very small house, remember The Doll’s House I mentioned earlier? That is something that I truly appreciate and never take for granted.
Christmas felt a cautious time, the girls broke up from school and I don’t believe any of us gave much thought to them possibly not going back but here we are. All stood in 2021 in our homes again,children tethered to kitchen tables with online school and us adults feeling that inside out, upside down feeling I started this off with.
Why do we feel so unsettled and irked this time round? How many of us standing at crowded bus stops in the dark and rain have stood there over the years on our work commute willing the world to JUST STOP so we could hide at home and have endless duvet days and not venture out much in January thank you very much! Yet we find ourselves back at home and a quick trip around social media will show weary tales of people struggling deeply with trying to make sense of this all.
Maybe we can’t. I don’t have answers, I just know what works for me is – quoting William Morris once more to remember that keeping busy for me is key to getting through the days with my sanity intact, it was a very long time ago he wrote
‘ A good way to rid one’s self of a sense of discomfort is to do something. That uneasy , dissatisfied feeling is actual force vibrating out of order, it may be turned to practical account by giving proper expression to it’s creative character’
Yet he could have written it a few days ago in a weekend article in the papers as a way to try to get through this enforced time at home. Our homes perform many functions and never more so than now. They are schools and offices, gyms and studios, canteens and corner shops and we are having to fit all that living, all that emotion and interaction that we normally expel out into those different places into our homes and that is a lot of living to unfold between four walls!
In quiet moments I like to sit and let this house settle around me. In the corporeal sense it literally settles, creaking and depositing centuries old dust from its walls and ceilings yet emotionally I believe it needs to settle too. With travel away from our homes curtailed for so many reasons we can still all thankfully head out for exercise so when we all head out with the dogs I whisper to the house as I leave, ‘be still, thank you , we love you’. And on the rare occasions the others head out and I am here alone I will light an incense stick, always Nag Champa for it is our home’s signature scent, and walk into each room , carrying the gently smouldering stick and letting it waft around the rooms settling the energy as it disperses through the air.
This works for me, I’m too old to worry too much if I sound as mad as a hatter. What I believe is if you are struggling to find your inner core of peace and resilience at the moment and who isn’t, by making peace with your surroundings and not fighting it will ease some of the discord. You may blast out music, we do that here too, you may move things around, gather round watching films or play games. You might all yell and storm off to rooms away from each other and that’ ok too as long as you regroup later and talk and hug. Our homes can take it, they just ask that we balance up the energy books a bit later on.
The current situation we all find ourselves in is just one of many that the home I sit and write this in has witnessed, from the Peasants Revolt to The War of The Roses, through the tumultuous Tudor times to another plague in 1665, to Stuarts and Hanoverians, Waterloo and the dawn of the Victorian age and more recent historical events such as the Industrial Revolution and the two World Wars. I doubt the inhabitants of our house were directly affected by Waterloo, with no internet, indeed with most of the population being unable to read and write, news didn’t travel terribly fast and tended to be be news of the local area passed on by word of mouth by folk travelling through.
What I am trying to say is that we need to spend less time occupying our heads and hearts with what goes on outside of our four walls. Imagine, before you cry I am thoughtless and shortsighted, if we all bought less, consumed less, chose wiser, made do with more, slowed down, grew more, recycled what we couldn’t reuse, bartered what we couldn’t buy and at the risk of ending in a bucolic naive haze generally gave a bit more considered though to our actions on the natural world that exists outside our four walls, wouldn’t that be a force for good? A change for the better for all?
Something such as being asked to remain at home can feel like an Orwellian command but it could be a switch of mindset to see it was a chance to let old paradigms fall to the wayside.
Now, I am off to boil the kettle, grateful as ever that its coming easily out of a tap and that the kettle will do in a few minutes what the top of the wood burner would take nearly 30 to do. As I pour the freshly boiled water into my cup I will call to my teens that the school day IS nearly over and that time draws near when we shall all spill outside with the dogs. The cold air will hit the breath from us and it will feel a welcome embrace that we come back into, not a constricting prison. As with most things it is a matter of finding the best perspective to see the situation from.
From this very old house to yours, I wish you peace and resilience, good humour and patience as we head into more days like those that we have already under our belts. As long as we all keep busy in the ways we can individually find, we will be alright.
A big thank you to my lovely sister for writing this heartfelt piece! We will be back with another guest post next Friday!
Welcome to another guest post for my ‘Hello Home…’ pandemic themed feature. It would seem all of us have experienced or are still experiencing a lockdown of some sort while the corona virus continues to blight our lives. Although we are all in the same situation, we experience it differently because our homes are all so different. Thinking about this inspired me to write a piece a few weeks ago dedicated to my house and what it has meant to me during these strange and unsettling times. Today please welcome author Susie Kearley who released her pandemic themed novel in January of this year. If you would like to know more about Susie and her writing, her links are at the end of the piece!
“Stay at Home” has been the clear message during lockdown in the UK. For me, it’s been easy. I work from home anyway, writing magazine articles, and when my husband joined me in March 2020, I appreciated the company.
Back in the autumn of 2019, I took two months off article writing to complete my novel – it’s a story about a fungal pandemic, which brings about the end of the world! At the start of 2020, I started looking for an agent, and then Covid struck, which I thought made my book really topical!
I had good feedback but no takers, so I finally decided to publish through Amazon in January 2021, because I felt I was missing an opportunity. There’s been a lot of interest in pandemic stories since Covid struck; Dean Koontz’s novel about a Wuhan Virus published in the 1980s saw sales peak. Peter May’s Lockdown, which was previously rejected because publishers said it was unrealistic… was published to great acclaim in 2020.
As the UK went back into lockdown in January 2021, it felt like the right time to publish.
So my time at home in recent times has been productive, despite considerable challenges. A lot of magazines stopped commissioning, preferring to use up stock, given the unpredictable nature of what might happen next. Article writing work was slow, so I spent more time in the garden, went for daily walks, and worked on my photography. We watched a lot of movies in the evenings under lockdown.
I’m grateful that we have a nice home, with guinea pigs, and a garden. It’s so important to like your home, when you’re having to spend a lot of time there. We’re now looking forward to the opportunities the future brings, as the vaccine is rolled out, and hoping that my pandemic book, ‘Pestilence’ will capture people’s imaginations and become the next best seller! Check it out here http://mybook.to/pestilencebook www.susiekearley.co.uk