Distraction in the time of plague, or can you still write?

Lockdown sucks.

But you’d think as writers we’d glory in all this time. We don’t have to go out, nobody calls, the television is dull, dull, dull. We can’t run (generally pointless) errands, waste time drinking too much caffeine in coffee shops, or even go gallivanting off to literary events.

On that last, two of my events have been cancelled ☹️ and I’m spending ages getting flight and train refunds. All in hand now I’m happy to report.

So I should be able to get cracking on my new book. It’s like a mini NaNoWriMo when writers buckle down to write 50,000 words in a month.

Er, no. This isn’t happening.

My take is that we are all living in uncertainty, a rupture from normal and we don’t have a clue how or when we are going to come out of it. Humans are VERY risk averse and this ‘plague’ is high risk, stealthy and without a known cure or vaccine as yet. We are also separated, sometimes brutally, from our friends and family. Not interacting with anybody apart from the stressed-out food shop cashier is daunting, even alienating. We can’t shake somebody’s hand, kiss their cheek or hug them – very awkward and normally very impolite in France.

However tough, steady and balanced we usually are, we find ourselves behaving a little strangely – home-baking, mopping the floor every day, sorting bookshelves, doing the filing and other more physical or mundane things. Apparently, its underlying stress and it’s making us tetchy and tired.

And I for one feel guilty that I’m not producing much.

So what can we do about it?

  1. Stop beating ourselves up about our reactions – it’s normal to feel out of kilter when this kind of event happens over which we have no control whatsoever. And you are definitely not alone!
  2. Think of all the things you do have – technology can at least keep you in touch with people. Okay, Skype, or Zoom or Teamworks are nothing like being in a roomful of people, but they help.
  3. Rather than try to be super-creative, revise old pieces of work you meant to develop further – that writing exercise you did on a course, a short story that didn’t get placed in a competition, a dodgy scene in your current novel draft.
  4. Although we can’t get to bookshops, you can fill your ereader or iPad electronically. Apart from a heap of new fiction, I’ve been reading a lot of background stuff for my next novel. Yes, I know the fall of the Roman Empire isn’t for everybody, but I find it quite relaxing. Believe you me, we’re living in paradise in comparison with the late fourth and early fifth centuries!
  5. Watch films. If you feel guilty, you can tell yourself you’re researching plot structure and narrative thrust…
  6. If you have an email list, send a special newsletter and if you can, include a free short story. It doesn’t have to be a new one, but your readers might welcome a distraction.
  7. If you can, make a book temporarily free. As a “special” during this time of lockdown and to support #readingathome and #escapistbooks, I’m making INCEPTIO, the first of Carina’s adventures, free for a little while.  Amazon     Apple    B&N Nook    Kobo
  8. Don’t try to do stuff that is ‘worthy’ out of guilt, but try to have some kind of objective for each day, however small. Keeping to some kind of routine gives you structure and an element of control.
  9. Look ahead and make a list of things to do post-lockdown. They can be as simple as a coffee or glass of wine with a friend, or wandering round the shopping centre, clambering over a Roman ruin 😉 or a world trip. That last one might be difficult for a while, though.

Some pleasures to look forward to afterwards

Essentially, don’t force creativity unless you have a desperately near deadline. Just try to do a little every day, even 3-400 words, or just a double-spaced page and it will start to mount up.

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

At last! The paperback 'Writing Buddy' is out!

Order it from Amazon print, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, Waterstones Online or through your local independent bookshop
——————
Back in In 2011, I approached Sarah Berry, the founding editor of The Deux-Sèvres Monthly, the English language magazine covering everything that could interest the English speaker living in my part of rural France.

I offered her a column on writing and publishing as I wanted to pass on to other writers things I’d learnt since becoming a full-time writer. After a while, I had created fifty articles of bite-size information and advice. People were contacting Sarah about back copies as they wanted to re-read the articles.

With Sarah’s blessing, I compiled 25 of them into the first version of The 500 Word Writing Buddy, now updated to include 10 additional articles. Although I had some paper copies printed locally, I hadn’t got round to producing a paperback version for wider distribution on the standard retail sites.

Now I have! 😉 And it’s published today!

What’s in it?
This edition  covers five areas: writing your book; genres; you, the writer; publishing your book; and selling your book. Each section includes references for further reading and there is a useful contacts list at the back.

Why the title?
The column The Deux-Sèvres Monthly was, and is, around 500 words; hence the title of this book. Each chapter is a ‘quick ’n’ dirty’ introduction to each topic and intended to trigger further reading.

Alison with Sarah Berry

I was delighted by the reaction to the first edition especially when writers come and chat to me at events. There is nothing like getting together with other ‘scribblers’.

My thanks to editor Sarah for her support and to my critique partner Denise Barnes for her eagle-eyed checking.

Published by Pulcheria Press 9 April 2020
ISBN 9791097310264

Sarah now runs the successful and much acclaimed SBO web design consultancy.

 

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Debbie Young – 'Linguam latinam disco'

I’m delighted to welcome Debbie Young back to my writing blog, especially on subjects dear to my heart – Latin and learning languages! Debbie writes funny, feel-good fiction set in the English Cotswolds, where she’s lived for nearly 30 years. Her latest novel, Murder Your Darlings, the sixth Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, has fun with another branch of the classics, when Sophie, armed with a copy of Homer’s Odyssey and a Greek phrase book, joins a writers’ retreat on a small Greek island off Ithaca. Murder Your Darlings is now available in paperback and as an ebook in all the popular ereading formats.

Until recently Debbie was the commissioning editor of the Alliance of Independent Authors’ prestigious blog and is a general  independent fiction champion.

Over to Debbie…

No, linguam latinam disco isn’t a new dance craze – it’s evidence of my new hobby. “Disco” is Latin for “I learn”. Who knew? Not me, until this year, when I started learning more about this fascinating language that gave so much to my native tongue, English. If you’re wondering why I’m currently learning Latin at my age, blame Alison Morton! (Oops!)

In 2013, when Alison published INCEPTIO, the first in her Roma Nova series, and used a Latin word as its title, she planted a seed of regret in my mind that I’d never continued the Latin lessons I began at school. After taking evening classes in holiday Greek, (I spent a lot of time island-hopping in the Ionian,) I was enjoying recognising the Greek roots of English words. Surely Latin would offer similar rewards? Albeit it without the sun-kissed sailing trips.

I knew, like Greek, that Latin needn’t be difficult. In my teens, as a pupil at a girls’ grammar school in London, I’d expected Latin to be difficult, because we’d been streamed for our choice of a second language after the compulsory French. Although ostensibly invited to choose Latin, German or Spanish, it soon became clear that the more academic were directed into Latin, regardless of their preference. What I didn’t expect was that it would be fun and funky.

The first phrase we learnt was “Salve, Magistra!” to greet our teacher, Miss Dowding, as she entered the classroom. This sweet, gentle lady exuded an old-fashioned air, but her teaching resources proved bang up to date when she handed out funky-coloured illustrated pamphlets instead of conventional text books –tangerine for the first course (well, this was the 1970s), azure for the second, emerald green for the third.

Rowan Atkinson a shoo-in for the role of Caecilius if it ever goes to Hollywood?

The brand-new Cambridge Latin Course was hailed by academics as revolutionary. Never mind grammar, they plunged us straight into story, with a high ratio of illustration to text. The narrative, though simple, smacked of reality, detailing the daily life of one Lucus Caecilius Iucundus, an actual citizen of Pompeii. Maybe knowing that Caecilius was about to buried under Vesuvius’s deadly ash was meant to add to a sense of excitement and urgency to our studies. Quick, learn the language before the volcano blows!

However, Caecilius was still alive and kicking when we parted company prematurely. At the end of my second year of Latin, my family moved from London to Frankfurt, where I joined Frankfurt International School, whose language curriculum was restricted to English, French and German. (I took all three.)

Over sixty nationalities were represented on the school roll, with dozens of native languages between them, but sadly not a single Roma Novan, although I think Roma Nova’s diplomats’ children would have been right at home in this European banking capital. (Ita vero!)

The only exercise my Latin had at FIS was on a history field trip, where I stunned my teacher, a native New Yorker, by casually translating the inscription on an ancient Roman arch.

Only recently did I find a way to fit Latin studies into my busy life, when my teenage daughter introduced me to the free Duolingo online app. She’d been using it to maintain her GCSE French, and to learn Italian, German and Gaelic (her father’s Scottish) from scratch. Other options include Esperanto, Klingon and whatever it is they speak in The Game of Thrones.

The little green owl, Duo, makes learning languages feel like an online game. Duolingo is highly addictive, its league table bringing out my competitive streak.  The lessons are short and simple, although the phrases taught are sometimes not the obvious ones you might need to get around ancient Rome.

Drunken parrots and dirty weasels feature frequently. For more bizarre examples of unlikely phrases in all its languages, follow the Twitter account @shitduosays, which makes me weep with laughter. (One of my favourites – Alison)

Fun as Duolingo is, I was still hankering after something more formal, so on a whim, I looked up my old school texts online, hoping a vintage books stockist might have one tucked away gathering dust. To my surprise, nearly fifty years since its launch, the Cambridge Latin Course is currently Amazon UK’s bestselling Latin book! It has become a classic. And that makes me feel about as ancient as a Roman.

Even more remarkably, when I posted about this discovery online, a friend alerted me to an episode of Doctor Who, set in Pompeii in its final days, featuring – you’ve guessed it – Caecilius and friends. Enjoy it on Netflix or sample the episode on YouTube

Now I’m finding opportunities to use my growing knowledge of Latin on an almost daily basis, whether understanding the origin of an English word for the first time, glad to know why phrases such as caveat emptor mean what they do, rather than just taking it on trust, or hearing Latin words and phrases on television programmes such as Upstart Crow, in which snobbish Robert Greene mocks Shakespeare for his lack of a classical education. (See Series 1, episode 6, from 1m43secs in for a prime example) 

I’m also discovering more Latin books to help me expand my knowledge, such as a beautiful hardback copy of Cicero’s Orations, stumbled upon in the Bookbarn. The Latin text has a parallel English translation, with alternate lines in original Latin and English translation throughout. An idea for a future foreign language edition of Alison Morton’s Roma Nova novels, perhaps?

Bring it on, I say! Or rather, quaeso, scriptor!

(Forsan et haec olim facere juvabit Debora!)

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Connect with Debbie:
Website: www.authordebbieyoung.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/AuthorDebbieYoung
Twitter: www.twitter.com/DebbieYoungBN
Instagram: www.instagram.com/DebbieYoungAuthor

The ebook of the first Sophie Sayers adventure, Best Murder in Show, is currently free to download.

––––––––––––

Read Debbie’s latest book

When Sophie Sayers joins a writers’ retreat on a secluded Greek island, she’s hoping to find inspiration and perhaps a little adventure. Away from her rural English comfort zone, she also takes stock of her relationship with her boyfriend Hector.

But scarcely has the writing course begun when bestselling romantic novelist Marina Milanese disappears on a solo excursion to an old windmill. First on the scene, Sophie is prime suspect for Marina’s murder. When a storm prevents the Greek police from landing on the island to investigate, Sophie must try to solve the crime herself – not easy, when everyone at the retreat has a motive.

As she strives to uncover the truth about Marina’s fate, Sophie arrives at a life-changing decision about her own future.

 

Buy Murder Your Darlings:
Download the ebook for any ereader: https://books2read.com/u/mZKZDJ
Order ebook or paperback via Amazon: viewbook.at/MYD

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Is doing your highlights in time of crisis important?

Hair highlights kitWe are scared. We feel unsafe. Our routine is shot. Our friends are distant. We can’t hug our children, parents or friends who live in other houses. No trips to the restaurant, pub or club. Not even a quick coffee with a friend before getting on a train to a meeting or show. And research trips and conferences are off. We won’t even be able to see our first grandchild (due early May) in the UK until it’s all over.

Gods, it’s dismal, isn’t it?

Which begs the question: why did I put a packet of hair colourant in my trolley when I ventured out for an authorised foray to buy food in the supermarket? The cashier gave me an odd look when I placed it on the conveyor belt at the checkout among the apples, courgettes, chocolate and loo roll. She didn’t say anything; she looked too tired to care much, poor soul.

Yes, we all want to present our best side to the world, but who is seeing us now part from during the odd Zoom or Skype session? And relatives and true friends won’t care if your roots are showing.

Some theories

The lipstick effect is the theory that when facing an economic crisis consumers will be more willing to buy less costly luxury goods. Instead of buying expensive designer clothing, for example, people will buy expensive lipstick. The underlying assumption is that consumers will buy some level of luxury goods even if there is a crisis, but goods that have less impact on their pockets. People may not afford a holiday in exclusive resorts, but they can still manage a night out at an affordable place.

Well, a packet of hair dye is definitely cheaper than a visit to the hairdresser, however pleasant the hairdressing experience is. But mine shut two weeks ago with the lockdown, so it was Hobson’s choice. I’m pretty sure he’s going to tut when he sees the results…

Data collected by Kline & Company, a market-research group, showed that lipstick sales sometimes increase during times of economic distress, but have also been known to grow during periods of prosperity. In other words, there is no clear correlation with that particular product.

In a 2012 study by four university researchers, the effect is attributed to evolutionary psychology: “This effect is driven by women’s desire to attract mates with resources and depends on the perceived mate attraction function served by these products. In addition to showing how and why economic recessions influence women’s desire for beauty products, this research provides novel insights into women’s mating psychology, consumer behavior, and the relationship between the two. … Although the lipstick effect has garnered some anecdotal lore, the present research suggests that women’s spending on beauty products may be the third indicator of economic recessions—an indicator that may be rooted in our ancestral psychology.

Hm, so they think it’s a ‘lizard brain’ reaction to attract the best mates when the species is threatened with extinction.

In a 2017 Guardian article, Toby Clark at Mintel reported that in the last downturn home baking goods sold well, even though it can be more expensive to make a cake at home. “In many ways, home baking is a luxury purchase but you don’t just get cakes” Clark added. “You get an experience, the satisfaction of making something and family time. Even if you spend more than you would on a tray bake from the local supermarket you feel you get more bang for your buck.

Alison after having done her highlights

Post highlights at home

So it seems we are not only looking for reassurance that we can still access the little extras of our previous way of life and in a way ‘deny’ the harsher time we now live in, but also that some aspects of our normal life will continue, including our self-presentation and self-image.

The lizard brain is in full steam, instinctively pushing to prioritise our attractiveness to others so they will like us and protect us.

And even though we have to buy sugar, flour, fat, eggs, etc. perhaps baking cakes also reassures us in two ways: harking back to safer times when we created something earlier in our life in the kitchen with mother, and feeling the nostalgic wartime spirit of our parents.

Me and the hair dye?

Probably a combination of all of the above, a wish to cheer myself up plus a dollop of vanity.

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Yes, it's a confinement post #RestezChezVous

I haven’t posted about Covid19 epidemic before – I leave the medical stuff to the experts. As an ordinary person, a ‘civilian’, I can see it’s an unknown killer that can sneak up on you for up to 14 days before it shows itself and against which we have no known cure. Effects vary from light flu-like symptoms to death. This makes it massively unpredictable and is ant the root of most anxiety.

We’re just finishing our second week of ‘confinement to barracks’ here in France which is an effort to create a medical firebreak in the spread of the disease. Here at Château Morton we’ve settled into a routine not much different from the usual one, but one coated with a hefty layer of wariness.

At the time of writing…

What we can’t do:

  • go out to a restaurant (which have all been closed since 15 March) or most shops
  • have your hair done (not the end of the world)
  • meet up with friends for coffee or dinner at their or our house
  • take long journeys
  • go to association meetings, the library or education courses
  • make non-essential visits to older relatives (we are the oldest in our family, so not a problem)
  • otherwise congregate

Yes, we have loo rolls in the supermarket!

What we can do

  • go to the local supermarket for food shopping – all marked up with one entrance and exit – red and white tape abounds
  • take a walk for up to an hour – no hardship in our rural part of France – with a dog if you have one (we don’t), but no further than a kilometre
  • go to medical appointments/collect prescriptions, etc.
  • work from home – no change there for this writer
  • dig up weeds, mow lawn, carry out those DIY projects that kept being ignored
  • read – I am blasting my Amazon Kindle account
  • interact via Skype and Zoom and, of course, by Facebook and Twitter

People can go to work within the legal restrictions, i.e. it must be essential and where you will be a minimum distance of a metre apart. If you’re called to go to court, you’re allowed to travel for that! And there’s that glorious French catch-all:

Participation à des missions d’intérêt général sur demande de l’autorité administrative.  

Almost untranslatable across the cultural barrier, but generally meaning “Participating in activities for the general good at the request of the appropriate administrative authority.”

Armed with our permits for our daily walk

Paperchase

And being France, you have to carry a piece of paper and your identity card even if you go out for a walk in the back end of nowhere! You self-certify each time using an official Ministry of the Interior form. But woe betide you if the gendarmes or police check you and you haven’t bothered to complete one and bring it with you – you’re in for a 135 euro fine rising by large steps if you don’t pay it within a certain time.

So how do we feel about all this?

Yes, we are anxious; we’d be mad not to be. It’s also boring, but not a hardship. For others, it means being cooped up with possibly fractious children in a small house. For some – mercifully few – it’s downright dangerous if there is a history of domestic abuse.

Children have been sent home with schoolwork to complete and the Ministry of Education is streaming classes. Children all do the same lesson at the same time all over France, so they follow the same syllabus. Teachers are delivering tutorials online either from home or from schools acting as centres for keyworkers’ children. Public broadcasters are supporting this with complimentary material.

Economically, it’s hard for small traders and artisans. However, when it initiated the lockdown the government implemented  a minimum wage based package for them plus they have undertaken to pay 80% of employees’ wages. All sorts of taxes, and social charges have been suspended – I can’t put it all in here! It’s going to be rough, but we will get through it.

Like everywhere else, there is a shortage of protective materials and gel, the health workers are working their socks off, retired medical and nursing staff have been recalled and the scientists are working flat out on remedies, tests and vaccinations.

Currently, we have just under 33,000 confirmed cases  and nearly 2000 deaths in France. (Update: 93,500 and 8,024 respectively on 6 April) And the peak is expected to be next week. Although very anxious about the virus, the public is backing President Macron’s measures.

My hands are dry and flaking and resemble something unearthed at midnight in a zombie movie; but they’ve never been so clean. I have a pair of stretch decorating gloves for when I go out to the supermarket – not very keen on touching the trolley or card payment keypad. Needless to say, the gloves get thoroughly cleaned when I come back.

If we have to do another two weeks, or three, then so be it.
UPDATE: the French Government has just announced an extension of confinement to 15 April.

Luckily, we have digital communications to help us in so many ways, but more than that, people here have stepped up to do shopping, run errands and support the health sector. The posties say they’ll stop delivering post if it means they can keep their service checking older residents running.

But then, with a few unscrupulous and unfeeling exceptions, humans do tend to care about each other.

Stay safe, stay at home. #RestezChezVous

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.