This week, it is my pleasure to introduce Liz Jones, who will be appearing at the first Honno Authors Book Fair in Narberth on Saturday 7 May 2022. Liz writes creative non-fiction and is the author of the ‘Eminently readable and meticulously researched‘ biography, The Queen of Romance: Marguerite Jervis.
Yet another author who saw her book published during lockdown, Liz was also denied a physical launch. Invited to share her thoughts about lockdown and the things she has missed, Liz sent this delightful essay. Over to you, Liz.
I am writing this in my back room at home. It’s a small, sunny room, lined with books. At the end sits a pair of drafty French windows (I must get them insulated) overlooking a large-ish, storm-ravaged garden.
There’s nothing unusual about this room. There are plenty of small, square rooms like this, in my road alone. But it’s become my special place, where I come to escape and think more clearly.
I never used to spend much time here, had never got round to adding those loving finishing touches – those special rugs and cushions – that give a room its unique personality.
Then came spring, 2020, and lockdown. All that we love about the outside world was closed, while many of us were cut off from the people we love. My daughter Rachel was grounded in Bucks. , where she had moved to for a job only a few months earlier. She was alone in a tiny village, while her partner, her friends, and her parents, were all far away.
Our other daughter, Sian, had given up her tiny room in London and moved in with us for the duration. Sian is a painter and quickly requisitioned this back room as her makeshift studio. It was here she painted portraits (via Zoom, of course) of everyone from NHS staff to poets, creating a body of work that is about to be exhibited.
It was a busy time for my husband, Simon, too. A teacher of English for speakers of other languages, he moved his laptop into the living room, making it a virtual classroom by day.
Like Simon, most of my life took place in front of a laptop. When I wasn’t buried under rewrites and final edits of my first ever book, The Queen of Romance, I was teaching lifelong learning classes online, or zooming in on what remained of my social life. As lockdown dragged on, there would be days when the only ‘real’ faces we’d see would be each other’s. We were, of course, among the lucky ones – at least we had each other.
For escape, I took to walking, familiarising myself with my ‘milltir sgwar’ (square mile) in microscopic detail. I also tried my hand at gardening, resulting in a glut of courgettes, closely followed by an outbreak of pumpkin rot.
More productively, I took to the sea. It made the perfect escape from those endless edits and attacks of first-time author nerves. Our little group of sea-dippers grew exponentially and today there are around fifty of us to be sighted off Aberystwyth beach. If the pool hadn’t closed, it would never have happened.
In 2021, the world began to open up, then it closed, before gradually opening up again. By March, with the final (final) edits and the multitude of last minute revisions behind me, I could luxuriate in a brief respite before the 6th May publication day. But it was far from over. As my publishers Honno informed me, promoting the book would be a full-time job. They were not wrong. Radio and television interviews, magazine features and reviews, a blog tour, and a flurry of Tweets followed. It was thrilling, and also exhausting.
As Covid put paid to a book launch, I celebrated at home instead with Simon and Sian. We treated ourselves to a takeaway from our favourite middle-Eastern restaurant (Medina, in Aberystwyth), some extremely rich cheesecake, and a bottle of Morrison’s finest Prosecco. (Oh yes, we can live!)
And it was wonderful. Although I was sorry not to have a launch, our little private celebration – without the pressures of fretting about how it would all go – was a joy.
That was almost a year ago. Now Simon is back in the classroom. Rachel has moved to Norwich, where she lives with her partner. Sian has moved to Bristol, where she has acquired a better-equipped studio. And I am still at home.
But it is not the same. No longer Sian’s studio, I have reclaimed the back room as my retreat. I love to sit here and stare out through those drafty French doors and, well, just think. I love to browse through the half-read books on the shelves. I also love to write here. After two years of edits, proofs and promotions, and all the anxiety that comes with being a novice author, I am ready to start again. This room feels like a good place to begin.
It sounds perfect, Liz. Thank you for talking to us.