Writers at Home is a series that explores how writers’ creative work and writing practice has been transformed by the coronavirus pandemic. Spread the Word has commissioned five writers from the London Writers Awards scheme to share their personal stories with emphasis on their writing practice. In this piece, titled, ‘Hunger Games, TikTok and Salt’, Ayesha Braganza shares her story…
My book and I are socially distant. It’s avoiding me. Pretending that it’s not in my household, that it’s not essential work.
I’ve tried greeting it, laptop open, waving enthusiastically: hey, remember me; we used to be close? Mistake. I have forgotten that ‘CLOSE’ is now a trigger word. My book averts its gaze, disgusted, and does that weird pavement dodge, where one of you ends up walking around the mournful, stationary cars.
Lockdown has changed my head, heart and soul.
I no longer have a level head because those self-disciplined, daily writing habits that underpin serious creativity have been furloughed.
All I want is a pen, paper, maybe a laptop. But this is too much to ask in the daily Hunger Games for Wi-Fi and devices: my book and I die every day – today, we were ambushed before breakfast by a teen TikTok recording requiring a laptop. As for scavenging for pens or paper, in desperation I bought a new notebook online. It didn’t end well … trying to disinfect paper never does.
In truth, I have no routine at present, no 1000 words a day, no ring-fenced hours of creativity. My book mocks my lack of productivity. Apparently, Shakespeare wrote King Lear during quarantine, but that fact merely makes me worry about our salt supplies, and I’m wondering, would a contemporary Cordelia measure her love for her father in toilet rolls?
Writing exists in the cracks in my life, between the pavement slabs of practical living. The challenges of creativity versus domesticity are often hard for any writer who is also a carer. Now those challenges are magnified. Simple domestic requests are like climbing Everest: baking a cake for a birthday? This now means: source flour and organise a Zoom party (hoping that this time we get to see more than just grandparents’ eyebrows). Daily living is complex and writing routines are, for me at least, inevitably interrupted.
But it’s more than my writing routine that’s proving challenging; my heart is too fraught to write. Thankfully, my family is fine, and I have food, shelter and health. But, like all of you, I have added worries: family who are intensive care doctors, elderly parents and job-losses.
A growing worry is my volunteering for Home-Start supporting challenged families in my borough. Lately, our work has focused on sourcing food … for kids. (www.homestartealing.org). Then there is Doorstep Library that reads with children in disadvantaged areas. Now we are recording videos for families, sourcing books, and trialling remote reading sessions (www.doorsteplibrary.org.uk).
All this heart worry and lack of routine have prompted much soul-searching. When the world is melting, is writing still essential work for me?
This blog has forced me to think, and I find that the answer is beneath my feet. Books still matter – our Doorstep Library children want to watch our videos. Story-telling aids understanding – some toddlers want to role-play ‘Cheeky Covid’. Even TikTok is a celebration of teenage creativity.
Despite heart and head complexities, stories, creativity and writing are essential for me. My book beckons me closer. Re-reading the first page, my protagonist worries about the food remaining on her boat. The social distance between us evaporates as I make the imaginative leap into her head. For better or worse, I feel her worry about food differently now. My book is re-made through a covid-lens and I know that I will keep writing because, however hard, my book and I are part of the same household.
Ayesha is a northerner who has lived in London half her life; a children’s writer who writes for adults too; a British Indian who grew up in a Yorkshire village. A lawyer in a previous incarnation, she escaped city life and found writing.
Her work has won or been placed in a number of competitions supported by, amongst others, Faber, Bloomsbury, Jericho Writers and Spread The Word. Never one to avoid life’s banana skins, the farcical experience of missing her own competition winning ‘golden moment’ prompted her to start blogging as www.theinvisibleauthorblog.com. She’s passionate about sharing books, and has started a reading for pleasure ‘Book Explorers’ initiative in primary school libraries (http://www.bookexplorers.org/). She also supports social justice and children’s literacy projects through her work with Doorstep Library and Home-Start.
Published 12 May 2020