I'm in an awkward limbo phase and I don't like it at all. My Next Big Writing Project™ is temporarily out of my hands in a way that I find very uncomfortable and I don't quite know what to do with myself. The last few months have been a blur of routine: get up, hammer away at the draft until I hit a thousand new words, then close it and try not to feel too overwhelmed with guilt while I do all the other work I ignored in the meantime. Now there's a blank space in my morning where all that effort used to be, and it's making me do strange things like create new documents titled MY BRILLIANT NOVEL and fill the page with bullet points for scenes I have no idea how to write.
It's hard not to draw parallels between this enforced yet temporary cessation of activity and the wider situation in the world, of course. Where I live in the UK, cases are going up at an alarming rate yet we're told that all the summer reopening plans are still on. It's like the few moments in the dark on stage before the curtain goes up. Nobody really knows what's going to happen and we're all just breathing in the dusty backstage air together, hoping that we can put on a good show.
After months of not really sleeping, I'm being put through a strict regimen aimed at minimising nighttime anxiety by a cheery-yet-strict "wellbeing coach" at my doctor's surgery. I may only sleep between midnight and 6.30am; I may not take naps; and I'm not allowed to work after 6pm. The principles underlying this plan are, I was told, quite similar to those for sleep training a toddler, which I find both reassuring and a little humbling. Anyway, the upshot of this is that every evening I have six hours to fill when I feel incredibly tired but may not go to sleep — yet another awkward moment of limbo in the day. I need to learn how to do nothing again.
I know that the Olympics is coming up soon because I am in the grip of a sudden enthusiasm for a sport I have previously never cared about. In 2016 it was men's long distance running. In 2012 it was dressage (which is clearly just "horse dancing", let's call it what it is). And this year, it's the uneven bars event in women's gymnastics. If you're interested, I recommend this half hour documentary about how difficult it is, and how much doing it right feels like flying.
It is a little alarming how ready the mechanisms of the internet are to assist in nurturing this interest. A week ago, I was idly watching a "look at how amazing Simone Biles is" compilation video during a pomodoro break. The algorithm clocked that I watched this video all the way through and initially started serving me more of the same, and then transitioned into highlighting individual gymnasts' YouTube channels.
Seven days in, I'm a diehard fan not only of Biles but of MyKayla Skinner too, a US gymnast (and Mormon) who caught Covid last year, developed pneumonia, and had to take months off her training because she couldn't do a single somersault without wheezing, let alone the doubles and triples international competition requires. This past Sunday, she made the US Olympic team in spite of these setbacks and I must admit, I welled up a little bit.
A writing project that I worked on in the first half of this year has finally been announced and is available for pre-order: Agatha Christie's England, a map and guide to the Queen of Crime's literary locations.
I was asked to do this because of my podcast, Shedunnit, on which I talk about the so-called golden age of detective fiction that ran roughly 1920 to 1939. I might write another week about how I put together the scripts for that — if it's of interest, let me know — and I agreed thinking that putting together the guide would be just like writing an extra long episode.
How wrong I was! Christie was both very specific about the locations in her fiction and, at times, maddeningly vague about how they mapped onto the real landscape. She defines where Miss Marple's home village of St Mary Mead is in relation to a host of other imaginary places, but never according to, say, London. After a few days of fiddling around the edges of the project I finally just started reading her books again from the very beginning, making note of any helpful detail about distance or setting. I don't recommend skimming 60+ books in a few weeks; your eyes go a bit funny.
I think it came out well in the end, though, and I hope the guide strikes a good balance between being actually useful if you are travelling to Devon and Cornwall this summer and want to do some sightseeing, and also interesting enough to read without leaving your house. If you want one, they're available to pre order directly from the publisher here and will ship out mid July.
That's all from me today; I'm still getting back into the habit of sending this thing. You can always hit reply if you've got anything you'd like to recommend to me – I am very interested in what niche sports you are suddenly keen on — or if there are things you'd like me to write about in the future.
Until next time,
There are a few other places on the internet where you can find me: get my article and podcast recommendations in The Browser, listen to my murder mystery podcast Shedunnit, or follow me on Twitter and Instagram.