Lockdown diary

I’m not quite sure how many days it’s been. Many. More than a year for sure. The country isn’t under strict lockdown anymore, but with so many falling ill and vaccines still a way away, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

My partner and I both work from home. We’re very lucky – many can’t. My team are amazing, and we get along great (a rarity in offices let me tell you). We chat and laugh and send each other GIFs to keep the morale up. When you’re busy it’s easy to forget that you’re stuck at home. After work there’s cooking and chores, followed by Netflix or Minecraft. Now that winter is settling in, I think reading in bed is in order. I want to order all the Grisha books after binging Shadow and Bone on Netflix. I loved, loved, loved it. The alternating storylines weaved together expertly, and the characterisation and dialogue were just superb!

But back to lockdown. We don’t go out much. Well, he sometimes goes to the shops or runs errands. I’ve had a few doctor’s appointments and a very spontaneous tattoo booking (a sudden madness). We’ve eaten at outdoor restaurants twice and scoffed hot fish and chips in the car a few times, just to see the ocean. Mostly, we’ve stayed at home. We celebrated three birthdays indoors and will probably celebrate a fourth too. We even had a cat party to celebrate one year with our foster cat.

Read my survival tips for lockdown tips here.

A highlight: the camphor forest picnic at Vergelegen. We had a little isolated table in the middle of the historic camphor forest, with no one else around. It was absolute bliss to be in nature, and have the opportunity to tear our masks off and just enjoy a glorious meal in safety. The farm is beautiful and surprising – one minute you’re admiring ancient oak trees and the next you’re walking through a huge forest of sunflowers.

Lowlights: Nightmare-inducing trips to Karl Bremer and Tygerberg Hospitals. (If you ever need a reason to stay home, its the huge pressure these hospitals are under.)

The forest picnic at Vergelegen

I’ve been writing, albeit slowly and sporadically. Lockdown has been hard on me creatively. I have the blessing of all this extra time, but my brain can’t quite shift from OMG-what-is-happening-we’re-all-going-to-die mode. Still, I am using the time to think about writing, specifically how I can push my stories further to achieve that delicious, all-encompassing quality great books have (like The Wren Hunt by Mary Watson). My lounge is strewn with notebooks full of ideas. I am determined to finish the two books I’m juggling this year, and I have high hopes for them both.

Emotionally, it’s been up and down. I spoke to one of my dad’s cousins, who is a psychoanalyst, about my complicated grief dreams, and how I’ve been feeling. After our first session I was able to spend eight straight hours writing. My dad’s cousins have been wonderful. When my parents were alive, we didn’t really see or reach out to the rest of the family often, and it’s been nice to speak to them again. I also discovered some more about my family’s heritage, this time about my great-great grandmother, who was mixed race. I had no idea. It’s been wonderful to gain something about my family after all the tragedy and I’m hungry to learn more. There is a rich history there of migrants sailing the seas in search of a better life (my great grandfather’s ancestors fled Ireland), and we suspect in the case of my great-great grandmother, ancestors forcibly taken from their own countries to work in the Cape.

When I was young my father used to tell my bedtime stories about “Super Leonard”, and all the adventures he had, both on land and at sea. How wonderful would it be to be able to tell the story of my own ancestors one day? Or write the love story of how my great grandparents met in the Cape. I want to discover as much as I can. Dust off their stories. This excitement I feel makes me hopeful for a future beyond the pandemic. I have plans and dreams, and projects and books I want to complete.

Right now, the world seems incomprehensible. Vaccine hoarding, a rise in the alt-right, violence, violence and more violence. I refuse to let these forces crush my hopes. I want to unearth the stories of the people no one thought mattered, and remember and celebrate them, even if it’s only for me. Because people matter. You matter. I matter. My parents mattered. Their parents mattered. All the 54,735 South Africans who passed away from Covid mattered. We should never forget that.

If you are reading this, please, please don’t take chances with other people’s lives. When we were at Vergelegen, a man in a group shouted “Why are you all wearing your masks outside, take them off, go on.” I can’t forget his voice, and how forceful it was. One boozy day in the Winelands is not worth closing the book on someone’s story before it’s even finished.

How To Survive Lockdown

We can all agree that 2020 was an annus horribilis of note – for many reasons, not least of which was a global pandemic that’s forced most of us to stay home.

The Wild Child and I have been in lockdown since February last year – almost a year. We went out to eat once (never again) and took a safe-as-we-could-manage roadtrip to Jeffrey’s Bay to end the year off, just before the beaches were closed, so even there we had to stay indoors.

I’m sure you’ve discovered by now that lockdown isn’t all pyjama parties and funny Zoom backgrounds. It can be lonely, and boring, and repetitive.

I thought I’d share what I’ve learned over the past year to make the best out of my time at home.

Bake

When we entered hard lockdown in March, there was a lot of panic around going to grocery shops. As a result, I stocked up on baking ingredients and started making my own bread, rolls and flatbreads. This quickly led to forays into cinnamon buns, meringues, cakes, brownies and other delicious things. We now know more about the virus and how to stay safe when shopping, but I’ve kept up the practice. I might not be making as much bread, but I love the quiet focus involved in baking. You have to get every measurement exactly right or else the results will flop. Constant vigilance!

And nothing beats starting the day with a slice of chocolate cake and a cup of coffee.

Start a garden

I have a little flower bed in the back yard that was pretty bare when I moved in (I won’t mention the grass).  Being a novice gardener, my idea of randomly planting my favourite flowers and plants (hydrangeas, roses, pansies, blueberries, strawberries) was an unmitigated disaster. Everything died. This is because certain plants are best for certain soils and levels of sun exposure and other factors I remain clueless about. After one too many failed attempts, I created dedicated flower boxes for plants that actually live together, and edible plants and herbs that I regularly harvest for meals. As for the flowerbed – I bought several packets of wildflower seeds and tossed them in to see what would happen. The result is a wild mess of beautiful flowers that constantly change and I couldn’t be happier.

My favourite place is my little reading nook in the garden, which is the best spot to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Make an event out of silly things

When you’re at home, there is not much to look forward to and weekends can be quite boring. After countless weekends spent reading, binging reality TV and staring at my phone, I came up with the idea of Theme Days, like Batman Day, Anime Day, The Backyard Putt Putt Date Day, Competitive Gaming Day, the Birds of Prey movie Day, and Agatha Christie Day.

On my birthday we watched all the Batman films, from 1966 onwards. It was the best.

Bonus tip: The Velvet Cake Company delivers, so make sure your special day is complete with a slice of rainbow or carrot cake.

Find an online community

When my latest novel was published early last year, I was pretty disappointed that I couldn’t go on tour to publicise it. Luckily, I remembered the huge book community on Instagram and re-activated my account. I may not have been able to go on an actual book tour, but the #SeaStarSummer Intsa tour was just as fun, and I made a lot of new friends in the process. Plus I have an excuse to take more cat pics.

Get to know your cats

This goes without saying.

Get everything delivered

Even though its safe, the idea of walking into a mall fills me with dread. So for the last year, I’ve been getting everything delivered. I order my groceries through the Checkers Sixty app, my special once-in-a-blue-moon treats from The Velvet Cake Company and Woolworths, my medication from Dischem, must-read books from Google Books and Takealot, and my collectable figurines from Raru.

I have a special designated area at the front door for deliveries and shoes, so the rest of the house remains a “safe” zone. Really, its just an added precaution to make myself feel like I’m doing everything I can. I still wipe down my groceries… it’s all about feeling safe.

What are your top tips for surviving lockdown?

Good riddance to 2020 (almost)

Last year I wrote a blog to end off a very difficult year. My father passed away in August and I left a good job to deal with it. It took me a long time to get back to a place where I felt happy and fulfilled, plus I had a new book coming out to look forward to. But as you know, 2020 happened and with it came an avalanche of disasters: a global pandemic, lockdown, cancelled book launches and tours, all culminating in the death of my mother, a year after my father.

It was a nightmare year.  And yet somehow, I survived. You’re probably thinking that the year isn’t over yet, and it’s true that Cape Town is seeing a resurgence of COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions. We’ve learned to live cautiously – avoiding crowded places, ordering in our groceries, wearing a mask when we do venture outside, and always, always washing our hands. And of course, staying home as much as possible.

I’m not going to lie, being home has helped me tremendously. Life doesn’t feel like it’s racing ahead at lightning speed. It’s quiet and peaceful, and long days in front of the computer are interspersed with comforting coffee breaks in the garden. I have more time to read and write, without compromising a second of my work day. And without the daily joyless commute, I can get enough sleep and think and reflect. And clean the house.

This bubble of solitude did come at a price. I couldn’t go out and market my new book as I normally would have, and almost all launches and festivals were cancelled out of safety. Yet despite this, there were some sales, which I’m very grateful for. I’m also grateful for the time to grieve for my mother, which like the dreaded second wave, hasn’t hit properly yet.

Some good things that happened this year:

  • Sea Star Summer made the Exclusive Books Homebru list
  • The Outcast Hours anthology was nominated for a World Fantasy Award
  • I made some new friends on Instagram
  • The Harley Quinn movie came out
  • I saw the cover of a secret project I’m sworn not to talk about
  • I have another book coming out next year and a few short stories for kids
  • The old family cat Hannibal came to live with us
  • We started growing our own food
  • I learned how to bake bread! See below.

It seemed like only a few weeks ago that I was laying out my resolutions and hopes for the coming year. I think it’s better to not do that yet, and let whatever is meant to happen do it’s thing.  As I said, the year isn’t over it.

The future may look a little foggy right now, but there are some rays of light visible. I’m writing again, and loving it.  And the garden is looking beautiful. But most importantly, I’ve learned to find joy where I can, and enjoy the moment. Pretty much like Hannibal does.

What’s keeping the smile on your face in these uncertain times?

Why I’m living for Harley Quinn right now

Harley Quinn has been on my mind a lot recently. Even though I’m a fan of both Marvel and DC, she is, without a doubt, my favourite comic book character. There is a huge neon poster of her above my bed, and on the opposite wall, a signed poster by cover artist Laura Braga.

To mentally prepare myself for the Birds of Prey movie, I decided to haul out all my Harley Quinn, Suicide Squad, DC Bombshells, and Harley & Ivy comics to get into character, so to speak.

Continue reading “Why I’m living for Harley Quinn right now”

Photos from my recent visit to Jeffreys Bay

My new book comes out next month! And it’s set in my favourite place in the whole world – Jeffreys Bay, in the Eastern Cape. The Wild Child and I visit as many times as we can manage. Our current record is four road trips in one year.

We recently snuck away for an unplanned holiday in February. I was taking a much-needed break and he had some leave days available, so we thought, why not?

Continue reading “Photos from my recent visit to Jeffreys Bay”

Signing off on a difficult year

The year is all but over and I have much to celebrate and be thankful for.

I won two literary awards – the MER Prize for Best Youth Novel and the SALA for Youth Fiction. I signed the contract for my sixth novel, coming out in April next year, and I signed with a literary agent who is so enthusiastic about the project we’re working on that I can’t help but feel positive about the future.

It sounds like a lot of good things happened, but for the most part, it was a very difficult year.

Continue reading “Signing off on a difficult year”

Hiking in Hogsback

Anyone who has ever encountered this blog will know that road-tripping is my happy place. I love the feeling of getting away and leaving everything behind, the end destination hours if not days away. No worries, no responsibilities, no deadlines. Last year I road tripped five or six times, and this year looks to be no different.

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Where to go on a date in Cape Town

When I write stories set in Cape Town, I love painting a picture for readers who may not be familiar with the city – the blanket of cloud sweeping down Table Mountain, the paragliders slowly descending in circles around Lion’s Head, the graffiti-covered trains snaking into town.

Continue reading “Where to go on a date in Cape Town”

Mine: a year since publication

It struck me this week that I never posted a blog reflecting on the year that was. I wrote about my favourite reads from the past year, but nothing that touched on my personal highlights from 2018. Yes, it’s February already, but the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

Continue reading “Mine: a year since publication”