This Is Lockdown – Q and A with MJ Mallon

Author MJ Mallon has put together a collaborative collection of writing, poetry and musings on the subject of the Covid 19 lockdown. One of the features in the book is ‘isolation writers’, where writers recorded their personal experiences of being a writer during a pandemic. I was lucky enough to have a piece I wrote included in this collection, so I wanted to help spread the word about This Is Lockdown and MJ Mallon kindly agreed to the following interview. Find out what inspired her to put this together, how easy and hard it was to pull off and what is happening with her own writing.

  • 1. Tell us about This Is Lockdown – what can we expect to read if we purchase this collection? I collated This Is Lockdown in two parts. The first section comprises my personal diaries, photography and poems It features the ‘isolation writers,‘ who share their pieces on isolation during COVID19, their poetry and writings. The second half focuses on my YA short story: The Poet’s Club, and a more mature love affair, plus various pieces of flash fiction inspired by news reports and social media during this time. This Is Lockdown is an authentic account of the difficulties and sadness of this time but there are also tales to lift the spirits, wonderful community initiatives such as Masks4NHS, (who contributed a piece documenting their fund-raising success.)

2. What made you decide to put this collection together?

This collection started off as a series of features on my blog. I posed this question: How do writers, creatives, artists and bookish souls cope with isolation? Is their capacity to cope different from the rest of the population? It’s an interesting question and one that fascinates me.

The popularity of this series of blog posts gave me the idea to put this collection together.

3. How did you approach authors/bloggers and what sort of response did you have?

I approached authors and bloggers via social media, specifically my Facebook group: Authors/Bloggers Rainbow Support Club and Book Connectors. The response was overwhelmingly positive. I saw it as a wonderful opportunity to connect with the writing community in a mutually helpful way during this time.

It gave me focus and drive to do something worthwhile whilst on furlough from work. I suddenly found myself with nothing else to do apart from housework, gardening, or the dreaded de-cluttering!

4. What sort of audience do you think will enjoy this book?

Ah, that’s an interesting question. Everyone. I hope. Firstly, I think it will appeal to writers, bloggers and creatives. Also, it will interest all of us – our experiences of the impact of coronavirus are similar wherever we live in the world.

5. What has been the easiest and what has been the hardest aspect of putting this together?

For me, the easiest part is writing! The hardest part is the formatting (especially as there are so many photographs in the collection.) I had to do a fair amount of rearranging, deciding on fonts, format, and headers. I’d say that it was the most difficult formatting job I’ve attempted to date.

There are many author photos, images I’d taken on walks, or in my garden, a photo of my daughter, two contributed photos of cats, food, etc. I changed the dpi (dots per inch,) of each photograph to ensure that it would be a high resolution for publishing.

6.What has your own experience of lockdown been, in terms of your writing?

Difficult. At the moment, I struggle to write in my normal style: YA Fantasy/magical realism. So, instead, I created realistic fiction

7. Tell us about your own writing and publishing journey so far

I started my blog Kyrosmagica – crystal magic – six years ago. Via my blogging journey I’ve joined in flash fiction, short story writing, poetry, and photography challenges. I’ve virtually met bloggers and writers who I now call friends, and I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting many of them in person at the Annual Bloggers Bash in London, which sadly didn’t happen this year due to circumstances not related to COVID19.

My debut novel, a YA fantasy set in Cambridge, is inspired by two amazing sculptural modern artworks: the Corpus Christi Chronophage clock invented by Dr. John C. Taylor, OBE, and the beautiful crystal grotto in Juniper Artland in Scotland, designed by Anya Gallaccio. These two creations give the book its raison d’être – its light and darkness.

The Curse of Time #1 Bloodstone is a coming of age story about a young girl, Amelina Scott. She lives in a weird family dynamic, with her much loved black cat, Shadow, Esme, a girl stuck in a mirror and her parents Mark and Eleanor who look like they’ve walked out of a horror wax museum. Ryder is delicious to look at but has a shadowy aura that excites and frightens her.

There are snippets of poems introducing each of the chapters and many themes interwoven in the book: music, magic, art, mental health/self harm, deception, and hypnotism. .

I’ve also contributed to these short story anthologies:Goodreads: Nightmareland, a bestselling horror anthology compiled and edited by Dan Alatorre, and the Ghostly Writer’s group organised by Claire Plaisted.

8. What was your latest release and who would enjoy it?

My latest release, Mr. Sagittarius is different too! It’s a collection of poetry, prose and photography inspired by the beauty of nature. It explores many themes: sibling relationships, love, the circle of life, myths and magic. It was recently featured under the heading Inspiration at Literary Lightbox.Here is the link: https://lightboxoriginals.com/lollipop-leaves/

9. What is your normal writing process?

I often awaken with ideas in the morning and rush to type them on my laptop! I don’t plot, I tend to write everything down and then add the detail, or rearrange. This helps to create imaginative and unusual effects!

10. What can we expect from you next?

First on the agenda is to finish the second in the Curse of Time series. I hope to publish the second book in this three-part series in the Autumn/Winter of 2020. I also have several other projects in mind… a poetry, photography book entitled Do What You Love, and a MG story about a dragon and a girl.

11. What advice would you have for any aspiring writers out there?Write, read, and repeat! Live, Laugh, cry. Experience the world through your eyes, ears and soul. Believe, and you will get there. Work at it and don’t let anyone crush your dreams.

12. What advice would you have for anyone thinking about putting together a collaborative collection such as This Is Lockdown?

It is my first attempt at a collaborative collection. My advice? Contribute to several anthologies before you attempt one yourself. This helps to give you an idea of the process and what you will need to do. There is a considerable amount of work involved, so make sure you have the time to devote to it. You will need to be organised. I use Canva to create content to share on my blog, and I manage my blog tour with featured posts by bloggers and authors I know in the writing community. It is important to ensure your cover and graphics are enticing. You can outsource blog tours, covers, formatting but it will be costly if you do. Keep costs down by creating your own ebook cover, making connections and using Kindle Create. 

Contributing Authors:

The wonderful contributing authors and creatives are many in number!

Richard Dee, (Sci Fi , Steampunk, Amateur Detective author,) Catherine Fearns, (Amazon Bestselling Author of Police Procedural/Mysteries and Music Journalist,) Lynn Fraser, (Author,) Jackie Carreira, (Writer, musician, designer and aspiring philosopher,) Willow Willers, (Poet and writer,) Sharon Marchisello, (Murder Mystery, Financial non-fiction,) Fi Phillips , (Author, Copy Writer) Jeannie Wycherley, (dark stories, suspense, horror,) Chantelle Atkins, (urban fiction, teen/YA,) Tracie Barton-Barrett, (Speaker/author,) Peter Taylor- Gooby, (Crime, Love Stories, Political Fiction,) Ritu Bhathal, (Chick Lit romance, poet,) Alice May , (Author, Artist and Speaker,) Miriam Owen, (Blogger and Doctoral Researcher,) Drew Neary and Ceri Williams (Ghost Horror, Supernatural,) Katherine Mezzacappa, (Author name:Katie Hutton,) Historical Fiction/Romance,) Sally Cronin, (huge supporter of indie community/blogger/author) Debby Gies (D G Kaye), (Memoirist/NonFiction,) Adele Marie Park, (Fantasy, horror, urban fantasy,) Marian Wood, (blogger, poet and writer.) Samantha Murdoch, (Writer, Blogger,) Beaton Mabaso (Blogger, African Storyteller,) Frank Prem  (Poet, Author,) Anne Goodwin (Author, Book Blogger) Sherri Matthews (Writer, Photographer, Blogger,) and Jane Horwood and Melissa Santiago-Val – Community Masks 4 NHS

Buying Link:

Amazon UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08CD1MCFB?pf_rd_r=NPA6S5SQJ30A6VYX87Q5&pf_rd_p=e632fea2-678f-4848-9a97-bcecda59cb4e

Amazon US link:

Thank you so much to MJ Mallon for agreeing to this interview. If you would like to find out more about her and her work, the relevant links are just below!

Author Bio:

My favourite genres to write are: YA fantasy, magical realism, and various forms of poetry. I blog about books, writing, photography and inspiration at: https://mjmallon.com

I enjoy writing articles celebrating the spiritual realm, my love of nature and all things magical, mystical, and mysterious. One of my greatest pleasures is reading. I’ve written over 150 reviews at my lovely blog home: https://mjmallon.com/2015/09/28/a-z-of-my-book-reviews/


I’m a member of a professional writing body. SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators.

Links:

Authors Website: https://mjmallon.com
Authors Amazon page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/M-J-Mallon/e/B074CGNK4L
Twitter:@Marjorie_Mallon and @curseof_time 

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/mjmallonauthor/
Authors Bloggers Rainbow Support Club – #ABRSC: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1829166787333493
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17064826.M_J_Mallon 

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/m-j-mallon

Collaborative Group: https://www.facebook.com/pg/5SpiritualSisters/

Silver Linings In Dark Clouds

I’ve been trying to stay positive today. I’m sure you have too. I feel better prepared for home-schooling now and will blog about that when it kicks off on Monday. Two of my children finished school today. One is in Year 11, which is GCSE year in the UK. She is worried about the exams being scrapped and sad she will not have a leaving prom and all the other rites of passage events that happen to mark this time. We will keep her busy and get her through it. I had a spooky trip to Tesco which was odd to say the least, mainly because of the social distancing enforced at the tills by tape and the constant announcements about only being allowed two of each item and verbal and physical abuse of staff not being tolerated. Talk about an uneasy shopping trip. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about the possible positives that could come out of it when we get to the other side. I think it’s helpful to try to find silver linings so here are six of mine;

  • Mother Nature will get a chance to heal. There have already been some incredible and uplifting scenes of this happening. Clear water, less pollution, dolphins swimming in the waterways in Venice due to the lack of tourists, blue skies in China and so on. Where I live I have already noticed a remarkable reduction in traffic. I can only imagine the benefits to air quality and to wildlife.
  • We will realise how precious our planet is and look after it better. I really hope so. Perhaps while we are all forced to slow down and just stop what we are doing, we will realise that we can change things and that for all our sakes, we should. Perhaps with no work, no school , no rushing around, we will find the time again to hear the birds, to notice the trees, to smell the flowers as Spring starts to blossom. I hope a new appreciation for nature starts to build.
  • We will realise there were parts of our lives we didn’t like and we will change them. Often, we don’t have a choice, I know that. You need money to pay the bills, to keep the roof over your head and food on the table. But maybe this whole experience will allow people to work out what they like and don’t like about their lives. If they enjoy working at home, maybe they can make the case for doing this? If they prefer home-schooling their children, maybe they will switch to it for good? If they find themselves less stressed, less tired, less worn out by life itself, who knows? Maybe some of us will change our entire lives.
  • We will live healthier lives. It’s ironic, isn’t it? Have you seen the empty shelves in the shops? It’s all the healthy stuff being grabbed and stockpiled. If you go down the crisps, chocolate and sweets aisle, there is plenty of that! People are grabbing the fruit and vegetables, the tinned goods and packets of pasta and rice. They are leaving the bars of chocolate and packets of crisps and sweets. I know that’s probably because they want to stay healthy to have a better chance of fighting the virus, but who knows, it could change things. Maybe people will notice how much better they feel without eating so much sugar and they will endeavour to have a healthier diet after it’s all over. I imagine being in isolation or lockdown will also make people realise how essential and therapeutic exercise is too.
  • We will recognise the true heroes in this and treat them better. I’m talking about the teachers who have been so amazing throughout, offering support and guidance preparing packs of work and online content, so many of them giving time on the Internet to provide free resources. We would be lost without them. And you know what? Give us parents a few days of home schooling and we are going to have a new found appreciation, hero worship even, of our children’s long-suffering teachers. I’m talking about the care workers and NHS staff, utter heroes who have been underpaid and overworked for so long now, yet here they still are, risking their lives to help us. I’m talking about the police, the firefighters and the army, also doing all they can to keep us safe. And what about the postal workers and the delivery drivers? We are becoming even more reliant on ordering online and these often very poorly paid workers are saving our arses and our sanity. And not forgetting a group of people who are also poorly paid and often looked down on by society; the shop workers, shelf stackers and till workers. I’ve done those jobs before and believe me, the general public can be extremely obnoxious towards them. But look now…these people are running themselves ragged trying to keep the food on the shelves. My husband is one of them and I can tell you, he is shattered. I hope that when this is all over we respect these workers more, we pay them more money and we realise that we are all connected, all reliant on each other for survival and we are all important!
  • I hope we become kinder and realise and remember that we are all in this together. In recent years, we have become less kind. We have turned inwards, thought of ourselves and feared others, while we have allowed the true demons to run amok. The politicians have done a super job of turning us against each other, haven’t they? This is, of course, to distract us from what they are up to, but we won’t go into that now. Let’s just say I hope this brings us closer together. Perhaps now we have feared for our lives, been separated from our loved ones, lost our jobs, had to queue for basic food and feared for our homes, we will have more empathy and understanding towards those who flee their countries to seek a safer life.

That’s me trying to find the silver linings and I truly believe there will be some. Of course, we have to get through this with our health and sanity intact first! What about you? Do you think this event will change things in the long-term? Feel free to leave a comment!

And Just Like That…Everything Changed

I don’t know about you, but I am experiencing such a mixture of emotions right now that it’s genuinely overwhelming. I’ve got fear and anxiety dipping and rising. I’ve got humour coming and going. I’ve got excitement about the challenges ahead and the thought that maybe, just maybe, this situation will somehow bring some good and make us change the way that we live. I’ve got determination and a kind of let’s just get on with it atttitude popping up from time to time. Sometimes I want to laugh and sometimes I want to cry. I am so grateful for so many things and at the same time unable to really absorb all this, let alone plan. The uncertainty is definitely the most stressful element of it all.

For me, the answer lies in writing. Always. Ever since I was a kid I have written to help me make sense of the world around me and the emotions I am feeling. I don’t often really know what I think or feel until I write it down. So, here I am, soaking up the latest news that UK schools are to close indefinitely this Friday due to the Corona virus outbreak.

A few weeks ago I barely gave the virus a second thought. I think a lot of us ignored it. It was like all the other things we were supposed to be afraid of right? SARS and Bird Flu, Swine Flue, Ebola and Zika virus to name but a few. The biggest things worrying me were climate change and the turmoil that would possibly arise from Brexit.

It was something happening in another country to other people, and that attitude shames me now. Because now we realise, don’t we? How bad things can happen to us too. To any of us, anywhere, at any time. We realise now how scarily fragile everything truly is.

Last week, as the virus started to dominate the news, as other countries started to go into lockdown, it still did not feel real. Until I went into my local Home Bargains and could not buy loo roll. I had enough at home but was mildly surprised and amused to view the stark, empty shelves. I wrote about it on Facebook and I think most people were feeling the same. Well, isn’t that a bit annoying and strange?

A few days after that I went to Tesco late at night, figuring that was the best way to get what we needed. My husband works in a frozen foods supermarket and he was reporting empty shelves and panic buying there. That night at Tesco I started to realise how strange everything had become. The shop was busier than it should have been at 10.45pm. There was no loo roll, no medicines, no soap or handwash, no pasta or rice, barely any tins or packets. I still got most of what we needed so I wasn’t too worried, but it did start to sink in. This is not going away. This is just going to get worse. We are heading towards lockdown, school closures and job losses. Oh shit.

Still, Monday morning rolled around as usual. No change there. School run and work. Busy, busy. No sign that anything was going to change too much in our day to day lives. That day I did make the decision to stop my fortnightly adult writing group until further notice. It’s my least frequent group and I make the least money doing it. Enought people had said they wouldn’t be able to come due to the situation, so I decided to pull the plug. I thought that would be it. But by Tuesday afternoon I had recevied an email from one of the schools I run an after-school writing club at informing me that all after-school clubs were cancelled until further notice. My other school followed suit and I then found out the museum I hold two writing groups at was closing, so those had to be cancelled too.

I wouldn’t say I panicked exactly, but I started to stress about the financial side of it all. Would I have to refund people for the sessions they had paid in advance for and so on. The more I thought about it, the more sad I felt. I’ve spent so long building up this little business and it’s really only been in the last year that things have started to take off for me and make some real money. However, I didn’t feel too sorry for myself for long. I started to think about all the time I would now have to read, write, learn to play the guitar and garden.

And then today, the news we had all been expecting. All schools, colleges, nurseries and so on are to close doors this Friday until further notice. I’m not exactly stressed about it. I am actually quite looking forward to spending more time with my children and I am determined that my 5 year old, in particular, sticks to the same school day he is used to. I am determined that he will have fun. It’s going to be a challenge for us all, but the schools have been absolutely amazing, with the constant updates and reassurances and I am sure they will be sending lots of resources our way. So now I won’t exactly have much free time, but it’s okay. We have a new challenge to adjust to and humans are nothing if not adaptable. We also have a remarkable ability to look on the bright side and make light of things. I think we will see alot of that.

I am of course anxious about food and medicine supplies. I stocked up on our asthma inhalers and hayfever meds this week, just in case. Paractemol is like bloody gold dust now! But we are in a luckier position than some. As long as he does not fall ill, my husband’s supermarket job should be secure. He is utterly exhausted though. They are run off their feet and dealing with very abusive customers at times. We live in a semi-rural location, with only one neighbour. We have a large enough house and a very large garden. I am extremely grateful for my hens and ducks who are all laying very well at the moment and I am putting the extra effort into the vegetable garden. I fully intend to put the kids to work out there too most days, as I feel like now more than ever they need to learn these skills, in case anything like this happens again.

It could be worse. We are lucky. The government is talking about help for the self-employed and for renters, so there is hope there too. I am going to be sending out weekly writing prompts to the children who normally attend my clubs and I am going to post daily ones on my business page for the writing company. I hope to figure out how to put online classes/workshops together at some point, but I am now rather stretched for time with the home schooling to get my head around.

My main worry is my 74 year old mother who has a heart condition. Her operation has been cancelled and she is in the vulnerable group. She doesn’t seem to see it that way though and so far has not been too good at isolating herself. This worries me greatly and I have tried very hard to impress the importance of it on her.

Anyway, the way I see it now, our job is to stay calm, stay positive, stay kind. Help each other whenever and however we can and be there for our loved ones. Keep busy, keep active, embrace the arts more than ever, and in my case, write my way through it. If you see more blog posts than normal (I’ve been quiet lately on the blogging front due to the business of life) it’s just my way of working through it and making sense of it. I can’t recommend writing strongly enough for easing stress and anxiety.

My main thought right now is how fragile everything is. How quickly things can change. How suddenly the ground can fall away from under you. It should give us all pause to think, especially if we have ever looked down on those less fortunate than us. Now we are all in a vulnerable position. It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are, what colour your skin, or how much power you have. This is affecting us all. Because truly, we are all one, we are all connected. It’s just that we have forgotten that and lost sight of it. Maybe there are some lessons to be learned in all of this. That’s also the best we can do, I think. Learn from it. Admit where we might have been wrong. Aspire to change.

That’s all I’ve got to say on it for now, but I think I will be back regularly with my thoughts on this and with news on how my drastically changed life is going! Wish me luck with the home schooling, that’s all I can say!

Stay safe folks. Look after each other xx