Lockdown Diary: The pandemic has helped writers understand the human psyche

We ask people how they are faring in the coronavirus crisis. This week, novelist Olivia Rana (44), who lives in Belfast with her husband and two children

Belfast writer Olivia Rana's latest novel Black Beach has recently been published
Jane Hardy

How has lockdown affected you professionally?

As we entered lockdown, I was just about to launch my second novel, Black Beach. I was in a quandary because although people would have more time to read, it would be more difficult to market. But it's been OK, partly because social media is the way now to reach readers. At the start, we all fell into lazy mode, drinking and eating more. But after a few weeks, we needed a routine. I've got back to finishing my third book, The Coppall Bawn, set on the borders of counties Fermanagh and Cavan. I've been writing 1,000 words a day, as well as home-schooling my children, Lucia (12) and Marcus (10) who's just going through transfer.

And what about personally?

We have slowed down and can assess how we use our time. I hope we don't lose that. My husband Rajesh (director of the Andras hotel group) is in the hospitality business so he's been around more for walks in the evening which is nice. He has also spent more time with the kids. Marcus has planted a vegetable garden and today he picked some peas.

What are the positives in this period?

I've gained an insight into my children's schooling. You see where they're struggling, where they're doing well. They've also done an online art school which would never have happened otherwise. Lucy has a bit of a gift, and they've returned to doing more arts and crafts, something they'd grown out of.

How has lockdown affected your writing?

It's made us much more aware of society and brought some humility. Writers need to understand the human psyche in order to create believable characters, so we will have benefited in that regard. I hope by the time my next book is ready some of the roadblocks will have been ironed out.

What keeps you going?

Probably my writing and that routine. At the start, with the kids seeing things on television, you had to put on a happy face and say 'Everything's OK, we'll get through this'. I've been doing Pilates on Zoom, which has enabled me to do more classes. Keeping mentally and physically fit is very important. Naturally, I've had days when I have hit a wall and my husband's taken the kids out for a couple of hours. It is unnatural to spend so much time together and you need to see other people. We'd just moved into our house in south Belfast and didn't know anybody. But some neighbours put on a street dance event, choreographed by two girls. I've also got to know some of the elderly residents as we set up a community group to help people who were self-isolating.

Black Beach by Olivia Rana is out now, available via Amazon and other retailers online.

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