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. Here, Loretta Ramkissoon shares her experience…
I’m one of those people who has wanted to write a book since they were a child. Sadly, writing and money are rarely synonymous, so I got a ‘real’ job and tried to forget about writing. Fortunately, writing did not forget about me, and much like a dog that wants a walk, it wouldn’t leave me alone. So I gave in.
My day job didn’t allow me the time I needed to write, so I left it and became a freelance copy editor and translator in the hope that this would give me the right balance of space to write my novel and enough income to pay the bills. I lived contract to contract, month to month, editing and translating websites and documents for retail and tech firms. It took a while to find my rhythm, but it was sort of working out.
The companies I work for were forced to shut indefinitely, causing my contracts to cease. My last job was translating the signs that would hang on their doors: “Our retail stores are closed until further notice.” Wasn’t this time and space to pursue the book inside of me what I’d always wanted? Endless days to do nothing but write? But in reality, my time is split between worrying about my elderly grandparents, worrying about my mum who has a mental health condition, worrying about my financial insecurity; when this ends – if it ever ends – how will I get back on track? And finally, though I wish it wasn’t the last thing on my list, worrying about my novel. It should be finished by now. I’m behind. Why does it feel like I’m not making progress? Don’t check Twitter. Everyone on Twitter has completed two novels in isolation. People are submitting to agents. I should be at that stage.
Seeing others make progress often serves as motivation for writers, but equally it can bring on a self-imposed sense of pressure. What is their secret? Sometimes we feel we are all fish swimming in the same school towards the same holy coral reef. When a couple of fish break off, we panic – aren’t we all in this together? But even though we are part of the same shoal, and swim in the same sea, we each have our own paths to follow, our own underwater labyrinths to navigate. So I tell myself to stop comparing.
As this surreal time becomes more and more normal, I’ve found comfort in achieving something every day. It doesn’t have to be a huge thing. It could be tackling an edit I’ve been avoiding, finding space to read alone, a breakthrough in a plot hole, a killer sentence, the perfect name for a character. My days don’t have a structure so the thing I achieve may happen in the twilight hours, while I’m making my lunch, before bed. I try not to focus on when it should happen, but on the satisfaction that it does. As long as I achieve something each day, however big or small, it’s enough. They are all strokes towards that coral reef. Every novel has its own journey. Mine just happens to be taking a detour. But it will get there. And so will yours.
Loretta Ramkissoon is an Italian–Mauritian Londoner who was brought up by her grandparents on a council estate in Edgware Road. She completed a BA in Modern Languages from UCL and an MA in Translation Studies from Durham University. She translates and edits other people’s work by day; at night, she works on her first novel and occasionally finds the time to sleep. Loretta was longlisted for Penguin Random House’s WriteNow 2018, is a London Writers Awardee 2019, and last year, her piece ‘Which Floor?’ was published in the Common People anthology. Her novel engages with themes of mixed-faith, mixed-heritage families, and the tensions and benefits they bring. She speaks five languages (but is open to learning more), enjoys sunsets and karaoke, and would very much like a pet cat.