Happiness is ...

Easy for me, I hear you say. Authors don't get out much, anyway, and spend the day in pyjamas. All true, in my own case. But if you've ever suffered from depression (I have) you also develop strategies to avoid the black hole, even if both times it was grief that kicked it off and - so far - no one I love has died. Click on a photo above for explanation.

So what do I do?

  • Get my hands covered in earth. And usually my face: a friend used to say I was 'smudging' rather than 'gardening'. We all panicked a bit at the start of lockdown, didn't we? I began Digging for Britain and then took stock. Book 3 will never get finished if I plant vegetables ... but I have planted lots of flowers and a pear tree!

  • Write something every day, without fail. My concentration wanders, so I'm writing a teenage love story/thriller because it's totally one-off. Ending a trilogy that some people have loved is a huge responsibility. I asked some of these readers and they are all agreed that the story is already in their heads and they are prepared to wait to get a satisfying ending. Luckily. But I have to write or a kind of pressure builds up inside and I get snappy. Not good when you're shut in with The One You Love aka Scapegoat. In fact, an author friend said she heard an interview with Ted Bundy and he describes something similar! Second bit of luck: I only have to use text to relieve the pressure.

  • Walk: ideally in a wood. After I had sepsis, I craved the colour green. I know this because we then had a paved courtyard at the back of the house and a kind neighbour let me go and sit in her garden (with my dear old dog Maud) If you look on my Instagram feed (on this website) you can see my favourite places. And I love continuing my podcast Wilde Walks - and thrilled that several listeners say each episode has calmed their anxiety. I'm donating the pandemic episodes to our local library.

  • Be useful. This hasn't gone so well. I am totally prepared (set up WhatsApp group etc, you know the form) to help friends and neighbours, should the virus strike ... but I've only had to do two things so far. However, it was a positive thing to do and improved my mood at the time.

What hasn't worked?

  • Zoom meetings. It's really lovely to meet up with friends and colleagues but adds to the non-writing pressure and the feeling that I'm not keeping up with anything properly.

  • Online festivals and events. I really can't keep up with these. We've never had so much available and normally I can't afford to go, so there is no excuse for not dipping in to all this free stuff (National Theatre, Glyndebourne, Donmar too). Instead, we park ourselves in front of comfort television, like all the Death in Paradise series we've never seen and sofa dance to the theme tune (but perhaps this should have gone in the first bit? It really makes us happy!)

  • The exercise bike. Bought in the initial panic that we would be locked in like France and Spain, it sits unused and unloved in a corner of the room, glowering at us as we dance on the sofa. "Call that exercise?" I hear it say.

Anyway, on balance it has been good, and I hope the gallery of photos reflects this. I wish you and yours well, and a second spike begone.

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