I’ve been here before. Many times. In that worst phase of the writing journey, the time between finishing one project and embarking on a new one. The time of submitting to agents or publishers and waiting for responses that in many cases never come. If we are interested in your submission you should hear from us within approximately twelve weeks. Unfortunately, due to the sheer volume of material we receive, we cannot respond to every submission. If you do not hear from us… Or something similar. Others tell you your manuscript is not right for their list, softening the rebuff with some gentle encouragement: a reminder that opinions are subjective and another agent/publisher may take a different view of your work. When the submission in question is a memoir rather than a novel, rejection or lack of acknowledgment can seem even more of a personal affront. It’s a waiting game, one that requires huge reserves of patience.
And these last few months of lockdown due to the pandemic have been all about waiting. For many less fortunate, they have also been about illness, death, loss of loved ones and financial insecurity. I am lucky to have escaped lightly so far, to be only inconvenienced by the isolation, limitations to my freedom and a mild but pervasive sense of anxiety. As each phase of our Spanish lockdown has ended, I’ve rejoiced at the cautious easing of restrictions – first being able to exercise, then meet friends outdoors, then sit on the terrace of a bar and move around more freely. But the waiting isn’t over, not by any means, because I’m also waiting for what they call in Spanish the rebrote, a new wave of Covid infections that seems certain to happen when our borders are opened and some kind of ‘normal’ returns. The ‘new normality’ is due to start next week but how long it will last is a big unknown. Like everyone else, I long for the fear and the precautions to end, to throw away my masks, walk into a shop without queuing, hug my friends, relax in company. Above all, I’m longing for the freedom to travel safely, to see my family.
I can’t do anything about the wait for a positive response to my memoir or for an effective vaccine that will banish the coronavirus worldwide. What is within my power – and only mine – is the motivation to start a new writing project, one that will absorb me and take my mind off the constraints of our present situation and the uncertain future. And because it is up to me, it’s the most frustrating of all. Ever since The Red Gene was published, I’ve been searching for a new project to inspire me, one that would offer the same kind of creative satisfaction. In the meantime, I’ve penned a memoir, but I feel it’s time now for a return to fiction. Should I go back to one of my earlier unpublished novels and give it a major revision? Or work on one of the new ideas that have drifted into my mind in recent months? I could perhaps write a novel based on the life of that eccentric female character from Bristol I discovered a few years ago and have started to research.
Alternatively, having delved into my family history for the memoir and learnt more about the colourful and frequently hair-raising life of my grandmother, I could opt for a fictionalised account of her life. The framework and a few telling details are there; far more is missing and would have to be constructed from my imagination. Painstaking background research would be needed, but if current limitations on travel continue, that research would be difficult if not impossible. My grandmother lived in five countries (and was forced to flee three of them) before finally settling in England. Only one of her children, my Aunt Inge, is still alive. Her memories would be invaluable but at ninety-five, she can no longer write or type and her home is in California.
Very soon I will have to decide on one of these ideas and start work. Because I’ve had enough of waiting. Life as we knew it may be on pause for the foreseeable future, but to waste time waiting for the old normality to return is pointless. We must recognise that the world has changed and if we are lucky enough to remain alive and in good health, we must stop seeing this time as ‘limbo’ and just get on with life, accepting its restrictions, taking all necessary precautions and appreciating what is still possible. Which for me includes writing.