Playwright Jane Coyle: I'm Zoomed out... I briefly joined an online choir but singing alone felt weird

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Belfast writer, playwright and critic, Jane Coyle


Up and at it – what is your new morning routine? How has it changed?

I've worked from home for years, so it hasn't been a major shock to the system. I begin the day with a bit of yoga, then breakfast and a quick turn about the garden before launching into my emails. I do try to get out of my pyjamas a little earlier in the day though, to create the illusion of being busy and proactive.


What might you eat in a typical working day for...Breakfast?

Breakfast six days a week is a mighty helping of granola and cereal, followed by a pot of coffee. On Saturday, I do an Ulster grill for varying numbers of people, but insist on baked beans being eaten where I can't see them.


If I'm engrossed in something, breakfast might see me through the day, but I like a good sandwich - crunchy granary bread filled with whatever is knocking around the fridge.

Evening meal?

I cook every evening and always have done. My friends think I'm mad. I've had an unstructured freelance work routine for many years, so I wanted to make a time when the family could gather together and shoot the breeze. I think French cuisine is the best in the world, so my cooking reflects that. I finish with a second pot of coffee - to make sure I sleep.


Have you been able to work from home – if so, how have you found it?

Even though I routinely work from home, it's different when that choice is removed. I'm Zoomed out. It's easy to get stuck in a rut, but it's been a prolific period too. As well as the usual stuff, I've written a stage play, a children's radio drama, an audio walking tour and the Little Stranger project.


Best/easiest lockdown meal?

A barbecue in the garden when all I am required to do is open a bottle of something and enjoy.


Weekend treat?

A tub of gelato, made by Alastair Macauley of Al Gelato. He's a friend of my son, who brings home a different flavour every weekend for his mum.


How have you kept physically and mentally fit during lockdown?

Walking, yoga, gardening and online dance challenges with DU Dance have helped physically, while I have kept mentally fit with virtual visits to exhibitions. I briefly joined an online choir, but singing alone felt weird. I've also been involved in a community art scheme, which involved local primary schoolchildren making paintings and cards for care home residents. I felt less motivated during the second lockdown, which dragged on interminably.


What has been your daily outdoor exercise?

A daily walk to and from the local shops; I rarely use the car now. A communal spirit has emerged in support of our independent traders who have kept us supplied through the lockdowns. An evening walk along the shore of Belfast Lough has also been part of the routine.


How do you relax?

Writing: it's a labour of love. Also, music - Springsteen, Floyd, Joni Mitchell... most things, except Steve Wright's Love Songs playlist, which makes me feel queasy. A gin and tonic in the garden.


Teetotal or tipple?

Favourite tipple is a Kir Breton - crème de cassis mixed with chilled sparkling white wine. It's very thirst-quenching and on a hot day it can make everything seem hilarious.


What book are you currently reading?

The Mirror and the Light - the finale of Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell trilogy. It's heavy-duty, but brilliant. Between chapters, I'm also dipping into Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet.


Best Netflix?

Ozark. I also enjoyed Halt and Catch Fire (Amazon Prime) and Long Way Up (Apple TV).


Most surprising thing you've learned about yourself?

The number of plates I can keep spinning at one time.


On a scale of one to 10, where have you been in relation to cabin fever and where are you now?

I started well, but I'm flagging a bit now. I would say six at the start, nine now.


What are the three things you missed most during the beginning of lockdown?

Socialising with friends, the buzz of live performance and being unable to visit our daughter in Paris and my family in Wales.


Where will you go and what will you do when restrictions are fully lifted?

To our little house in Brittany to do not very much, to Wales to tend my parents' graves and catch up with family and friends, and to Paris for exhibitions, theatre and hanging out with my daughter. I also want to go to Cork where my husband booked a break for my birthday – last year.


Biggest gripe?

The way freelance artists have been hung out to dry, financially and creatively. The government has totally abandoned the cultural sector.


Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

I've come to appreciate the 'small' things that were always around me: the natural world, family, friendship, community, birdsong. Above all, good health.


Any new skills or hobbies?

I've been learning new songs, improving my Welsh and painting with watercolour pencils.


What would you like to see change for good when this is all over?

A kinder, more compassionate world with less emphasis on material things. The pandemic has been a wake-up call for the way we treat our fellow humans. I would like to see concerted and urgent efforts to rescue our planet, which is screaming for help. We're all in this together.


Has coronavirus changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

I lost two close family members in the past year - neither to Covid - and sudden death is hard. The thread is cut, just like that, so yes, I do have a more acute sense of my mortality. My husband has recovered from serious illness, our kids are well. We try to live every day as though it's the last. We're still crazy after all these years, though – I'm glad to say.

Jane Coyle's dance-theatre film, Little Stranger, about a child's experience of migration, was filmed in Dungannon and features young people from East Timor, Lithuania, France, Portugal and Poland. Part of the EastSide Arts Festival and co-produced by Powerstone, Tinderbox and DU Dance, it can be viewed online at 4pm on August 14.