Last month I wrote of the anticipated tsunami of Covid-19 cases, and expected those times in March to feel light years away from now. Not light years for me, as it turns out, though it must feel like that for relatives of the dead, for those who are seriously ill or are working full-tilt day after day after day, night after night after night.
I weep for the victims, clap for essential workers, rage against the careless incompetence of some of our leaders, feel grumpy that I am not doing more to help. What better way to distract my mishmashed brain than to walk through the bluebells that bless our local woods? Here I can salve my eyes and breathe in the city’s air, fresher than it has been for decades, if not centuries.
Many writers testify that they can’t focus during the pandemic. We may be confined to our houses for much of the time, but the fight/flight hyper-attentiveness makes it difficult to maintain a creative space in our minds. I’ve not found it too difficult, deadlines are still deadlines, whether they’re self-imposed and flexible or the guillotine-sharp midnights of writing competitions. I’ve sent off four submissions this month, admittedly only one for them was completely fresh. Meanwhile, the embryos for my third novel, plus a novella in a flash, have implanted themselves in the soft mush of my mind, hopefully to grow and develop into unique creations, with legs.
The only completely new submission was to Hastings Writers Room who have challenged us to write five interlinked stories of no more than twenty-nine words each. It’s not putting it too strongly to say that I loved this challenge, which enabled me to fettle something that I have been trying to put into words for a long time. Twice I had tried to render it in poetry, twice I failed, but this incredibly tight format seemed to be just what those deep feelings needed to express themselves. Friends at the Leeds Writers Circle liked it, let’s hope the judge does.
At the other end of my writing range, the second novel is being submitted to various competitions before it goes out to agents later in the year. Over the past five years, I have enjoyed getting into the heart of my main protagonist, a 56-year-old woman.
Coincidentally, the Leeds Writers Circle poetry competition has recently been expertly judged by Mark Connors. The brief was to write a persona poem. Here’s mine, which wasn’t placed, based on the main character from my first novel, another woman of a certain age.
Bilan who came here fleeing death,
now labours in a well-worn bed;
I see her hope, I smell her fears,
together through the longest hours.
There is a form we must complete,
it lurks here well within my reach;
there’ll be wahala if we don’t –
so say the Trust, the government.
Her baby crowns, she pants, he breathes,
I guide his shoulder down, he screams,
I lift him soft upon her chest,
and rub him dry, put him to breast.
The paper lingers like a curse,
for Bilan, midwives, N.H.S.
Why should I write what she has told?
Am I their bloody border guard?
Placenta’s out, the bleeding stopped,
we tidy up and find a mop.
Her son, latched on, so loves the taste.
Their form goes in “domestic waste”.
I look forward to releasing my next Pangolin on May 22nd. You will have noticed that I have refrained from further comment on the possible role of pangolins as intermediate hosts in the evolution of the novel coronavirus. They all remain endangered species. There are reasons to hope that there is now no market for trafficked pangolins, and that it won’t ever ever be reinstated, so these animals can be left in peace to recover their numbers.