Here's at Sight Support HEY we are fortunate to have the continuing support of award winning local author Val Wood who is also the charity's Vice President.

Normally known for her historical romance novels based in and around Hull, Val, like many others, has been self isolating over recent weeks and has shared this exclusive insight into her experiences during lockdown.

Observations in the Time of Lockdown

At the beginning of the Covid 19 crisis I had been sitting at my computer for many hours, clacking away on the keyboard in an attempt to reach the ending of my current novel in progress. I stood up and almost fell over, so dizzy and sick with headache and a neck that felt as if it were filled with concrete.

The next morning I woke at 6.30 am as usual, made a pot of tea and clambered back into bed, rejoicing that I had decided to take the morning off, read a book, and make notes for the said novel. But old habits die hard. Eight o’ clock and time to get to grips with myself: I am a professional writer after all. I climbed out of bed.

I’m quite used to isolation as, like most writers, I sit and write every day, and I can cope with that, in fact I relish it for I can’t write with anyone else there; I need to be alone when transporting myself back into the 19thc which is my preferred period for writing regional historical fiction: but the concept of losing the freedom to walk and breathe a different air, to fetch my own newspaper and groceries or pass the time of day with neighbours, strangers even, is a very strange notion indeed; I am considered to be at risk, being elderly and with some past health issues; not matters that I normally think about.

I looked out of the window which looks down on the long road leading out of town. Silent as midnight, except that the sun was shining; a beautiful morning.

Image shows an open window with sunlight streaming in on to a hanging ornament

One car went by, driving at 30 mph which is most unusual, for few drivers observe the speed limit; then two runners, male, both dressed in black shorts and tee shirts and running one behind the other on the footpath. Another car, and a minute later, a white van. A man and his dog, another man walking in the opposite direction with a newspaper under his arm.

The road was getting busy, crowded almost, for along came a man and woman walking side by side, must be family members, and then a young woman running, her long pony tail swishing side to side. Three people within less than five minutes.

So this is our world as it is today. It seemed to me as an observer, and observing is one of the most important things we learn when becoming writers, was that life was changing; are we I wondered, entering a different life, akin to a dystopian novel where everything we hold dear disappears and we clutch on to the basics of life to survive? Or are we on the cusp of something special as scientists search for a cure for our ills; as people obey the rules and keep their distance or turn to help each other when they realize that nothing in the world can compensate for loss of life, friendship, love or humour.

The sun shone bleakly during the afternoon, barely warm but bright and I thought that to clear my head I must get out of the house and as my small garden is not big enough to really stretch my legs, I would walk a larger circular route than usual.

Beverley Westwood
Image shows a piece of grass covered land with a row of trees in the background

The common land of Westwood and the Hurn in Beverley is barely ten minutes from my home, so I reckoned that ten minutes there and ten minutes back was my permitted time out whilst walking alone. I saw few people as I walked, but many cars were parked in the drives of houses; I passed the police station which was once part of the old Sessions House and the House of Correction and I’ve used it in my books; I always pause and imagine how it used to be for the inmates in bygone times, locked in and only a rare possibility of coming out.

As I reached the top of the road leading to the Hurn, intending only to lean on the fence and admire the greenness and solitude, two men and a young woman caught up with me and I slowed to let them pass and we all kept our distance. The last man to go through the gate closed it behind him and said ‘Thank you.’

For what, I wondered, for I had given no service, but I smiled and nodded anyway. I stood gazing at the wide sky and the vast greenness and decided to step onto the grass; it seemed imperative that I should; it is common land free for us all to walk on.

I went only a short distance but it was wonderful to feel the springy grass beneath my feet and I breathed in good air I stood and pondered, as is my habit. A dog barked from a neighbouring garden and stood on his hind legs to look at me from over his fence. He continued barking though his tail wagged.

I spoke to him and still he kept barking until I left and went back through the gate. If I had been a dog in such a wondrous place, I too would have given a warning to say ‘keep off my patch,’ and as I turned to walk down the hill, another couple were coming towards me and then waited: it was my turn to say ‘Thank you,’ and as I walked down towards home there were but a few other couples, some with pushchairs or holding hands with a small child, or occasionally a single person, sometimes with a dog and we all shifted our positions to accommodate the others and all said a cautious, rather embarrassed greeting or a self-conscious ‘Hello’ or ‘Hi,’ and I don’t quite know why I felt moved, with a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye.

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Week Seven. May 5th. 2020

I don’t think anyone imagined that self-isolation would have lasted so long. Nor that it would have such an impact on our well-being. I don’t know a single person who has Covid 19 and yet everyone that I have contacted for conversation, by telephone, text or e/mail is in fear of it.

I have now sent off my novel to my editor, well in front of the deadline as I intended. I had reached The End late one afternoon; I switched off the computer so that I didn’t feel compelled to tinker with it. The ending had arrived quite naturally after much pondering and deliberation and I was happy with it. A satisfactory finale after much conflict. A relief to know The End had finally been written.

Image shows a typewriter with a piece of paper in it with the words write something

But had it? Sleeping on it is a different matter entirely and emerging the following morning from the hypnopompic state, which is often the time to explore the part-hidden dreams of the night time, I reached inside my nineteenth century characters’ minds, two of them, male and female who, it seemed had come to the same conclusion; it wasn’t finished.

There isn’t always a cut-off point, clear and sharp in every one‘s mind when finishing a novel, any more than there will be a cut off finale with Covid 19. The pandemic will live on in our minds even if it moves away from our bodies.

In a book of fiction the author has control even if it sometimes appears that the characters are speaking for themselves, as they appear to do even to the author. But as I listened to my characters, seriously listened, I realised that the original ending I had planned for them, wasn’t entirely true to their own individual selves as I had created them, and that they would have acted differently for themselves and not for me or my readers; and so I changed the ending; and this time I am sure I have got it exactly as they would have wanted it, if they had indeed been as real as they appeared to me.

And that brought me full circle into thinking of how we flesh and blood mortals are behaving now whilst under pressure of self-isolation, of obedience, of an inner rage and frustration against an unseen enemy. There are some who have already lost the battle; there are always innocent casualties, but what about the rest of us? We need strength and fortitude to continue; we can’t hide behind a curtain of fiction. This is real life and we can’t yet write The End.

Copyright Val Wood. 2020

Val Wood is an award winning author of twenty six romantic historical novels set in and around Hull and East Yorkshire. The most recent Four Sisters. All published by Transworld Publishers of Penguin Random House.

http://www.valeriewood.co.uk/