Letters from Lockdown: Stewart Foster

It’s safe to say the past ten months have been a challenge for the publishing industry, with book fair cancellations and publication postponements bringing chaos and uncertainty. Many authors have seen their publication dates pushed back ever further down the calendar and this can feel incredibly frustrating – after all, what proud author wouldn’t want to show their beloved book off to the world after all the hard work that goes into getting it published?

Lockdown has also been hard in so many other ways: homeschooling, social isolation, anxiety, illness – the list goes on. We’ve been keen to find out how our own clients have been coping with this new way of life and how they have found ways to carry on writing despite the crazy times we find ourselves in.

In this post, we speak to Stewart Foster, the award-winning author of Check Mates, The Bubble Boy and All The Things That Could Go Wrong, to get his take on the past year and how he’s feeling ahead of the publication of his latest middle-grade title, The Perfect Parent Project.

I’ve heard many authors say that they have found it difficult to write during lockdown, and to be honest, I’ve felt a bit guilty when I think how little it seems to have affected my writing routine. But then maybe that’s because I don’t have to worry about having kids to homeschool, or a partner coming into the room and disturbing my concentration.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have intrusions. Even at the age of twenty-four and twenty-seven, my kids will always be messaging me about something, and if that’s in the morning, they are usually greeted with ‘yeah, get back to you later, just writing at the moment.’

Prior to lockdown, most days were spent alone, eight through to four, looking at a screen, typing whatever words come into my head. And now that we are in our third, that routine really hasn’t changed. But there have been intrusions that sneak up on me. Like the constant switching of screens to Twitter, to catch up on other people doing nothing, then switching back to my manuscript only to pick up my phone and check exactly the same tweets. Quite honestly, maddeningly, because that will be repeated. And I’m here saying, ‘nothing has changed’, bar the quest to engage with another human, twenty times an hour.

The main effect on my writing has been the second and third guessing, much like most of us are having to do in our daily lives. Do I visit Mum? Do I hug Dad?

These worries are mirrored on the page and I have to stop and double-think: should they hug? Would they stand that close? Is it okay for my character’s friend to sit down beside her on her bed? It’s momentary, but enough to stop the flow, and then I dismiss it and think, by the time the reader gets this, these acts of physical affection will be back to normal.

The biggest effect on my ‘writing life’ has been the fact that I am unable to do school visits. Apart from the obvious benefits of having a break in routing, it’s the interaction with teachers and pupils that I miss hugely – the anticipation when arriving in the car park, walking through the corridors, chatting to teachers as the buzz of four hundred kids emanates from the main hall. And the teacher may be thinking, ‘Oh God, I hope he’s good because I’ve spent half the PTA money on him!’ and I’m thinking, ‘God, I hope at least some of these kids know who the hell I am!’ They say the things you love are the things you miss the most, and that is absolutely the case now.

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The last thing is something that has affected stacks of authors over these past months – the helplessness you feel alongside your pride and joy of their new book coming out. I sit here watching authors tweet, publishers tweet, agents tweet. ‘Yippee.’ ‘Wowser.’ ‘Happy Book Birthday.’ And I feel so sorry for them, because, hey, we’re all in lockdown, what else can we do?

And now I’m no different because The Perfect Parent Project comes out on the 21st January 2021. A year’s work, alone in that eight till four self-imposed writing cocoon, creating a story that turns to print, then grows a glorious cover. And all I can do is tweet, hold it up like a kite, and hope it sails on the wind. And it won’t be for lack of puff on my part, or the efforts of all the other authors out there.

We all hope for success, but if it doesn’t come, I hope all of us will be happy that we at least succeeded in creating something in these extraordinary times.

Stewart Foster is the author of multi-award winning middle-grade titles Check Mates, The Bubble Boy and All The Things That Could Go Wrong. His heartwarming stories have won critical acclaim and have been translated into a number of languages. His latest title, The Perfect Parent Project, publishes on the 21st of January 2021. You can follow Stewart on Twitter or visit his website for more on his projects and his work with schools.

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