20 May 2020

A peek inside the bubble

How did you find lockdown?

I’m an introvert and I’m a writer, so for me having a peaceful, quiet time to write is absolutely the best thing. Lockdown has provided me with that because there just aren’t as many distractions. To be able to have those long stretches of uninterrupted writing time was just fantastic - with the benefit of being in a lovely location that I can go out and enjoy.

I did go through a stage where I was just… anxious. I ended up having to take it a day at a time, didn’t think too much ahead, otherwise I started worrying about other businesses, my sons, my family - this cascade of worry about how people are going to be when this is over. So, I tried not to get down to that level and – I didn’t really call it this – but just being mindful and trying to be in the now, concentrating on the things that you’re grateful for, was helpful.

One of the really nice things was when we could order produce and things again to support the local businesses. I used SOS Cafe that allows you to buy vouchers from your local cafes that you can redeem after lockdown. We ordered fresh bread online, local coffee – things like that, to feel like I was still helping to keep other businesses afloat.

Who has been in your bubble?

My husband Dave, our two cats and one of our dogs. Our older son’s housemate locked down with his family, so my son was on his own – we lent him our bigger dog for company.

What have you been doing to pass the time?

I’ve been finishing off edits on a book that will be coming out next year (the third book in the Gabriel’s Bay series). Lockdown has been almost business as usual for me.  I’ve been writing fulltime for five years now, but I still co-own a (management consultancy) business with my husband, so I’ve done a bit of that too. We’ve been making sure the staff are OK - so that was my outside world thing.

What have you enjoyed most about lockdown?

Lockdown was actually really good for going ‘Right, what do I want to do?’ It’s quite a galvanising thing. It’s such an interruption to your day-to-day that you kind of go ‘OK, what does this mean? What is my life going to look like?’

Not everybody has had that luxury, I really understand that. Our business has been able to keep going, I’m still able to write and get paid for my residency, so I’m in a really fortunate position and I know not everybody has that. I think for all of us, it’s a time to focus on what you genuinely think is important and what you want to take away from lockdown - what changes you might make in the way you live.

How have you kept in touch with others?

I’m supervising two Masters in Creative Writing students and we’ve been doing that via Facetime, so that has continued as normal, apart from the location. It’s been lovely.

I’ve also got a writing group that meets every month and we did a Zoom meeting in April. We’ve been able to keep these things going even if it is virtual. I also went on socially distanced walks with my neighbour. She walked on one side of the road and I went on the other and we would yell across to one another.

What have you missed most?

My family. I missed my boys – we’re used to getting together regularly, to have dinner at the local pub or do something, get them around. I saw them a lot over Zoom, but it’s just not the same. I just wanted to see them very much.

What long shelved project did you revive during lockdown?

I don’t really have a shelved project. But the main project that I’m doing while I’m at the International Institute of Modern Letters is a book on my husband’s involvement with the Wainuiomata Cycling Club from 1970. I haven’t quite decided how I’m going to treat it yet; it will probably be a novel.  When we came up here (from Wellington), we bought a whole bunch of (club) memorabilia with us, so we’ve actually gone through and looked at a whole lot of things. That was great for research and finding out what we actually have.

Before lockdown I had been doing a lot of interviewing with a main coach at the club, a total lynchpin, and a real father figure to my husband. It’s really sad because he had a shock diagnosis of terminal cancer in February and he died (in May). There was the inability to have gatherings – he would have had hundreds at his funeral. I feel like now, more than ever, is the time to write this story, because he was such a key part of it – to pay tribute to him.

I’ve also been toying with having a sideline in self-publishing. I’m published here by Penguin and Random House, but I have often thought about writing romances and self-publishing them. That’s something I’ve been thinking about for at least five years and have done nothing! Now I have actually made a plan and got some things in place. It won’t happen until next year, but the fact that I’ve made a start is good.

What did you do for exercise?

My husband and I, and our boys, were going to our local personal trainer and he was really worried about not being able to continue his gym in lockdown. He had a brainstorming session with my husband and realised he could do exercise classes via Zoom. So, he parceled out his equipment and all the ones who were keen on doing it got some – we got some dumbbells, kettle bells, a weight bag, and things like that. He put together little training courses for us, and we’ve been doing that over Zoom – which is really entrepreneurial of him and smart.  It means he can run exactly the same business, just remotely. It’s been fantastic for us.

What surprised you most about lockdown?

What surprised me is that we have really appreciated the sense of community during lockdown.  I think there has been a real willingness, especially for those people who can, to support other businesses. What I’ve also noticed is that the businesses that are getting our support are the ones that have put the effort into creating the relationships with their communities. We’re trying to support the ones that we have a personal relationship with. So, the local bookshop is the one that I know the owners and they’ve supported me in my writing. In Level 4 I could have easily been impatient and gone and ordered some more books from Amazon because they were still delivering. But I thought no, I’m going to wait until the bookshop can deliver and I can order from them.

The businesses that treat us like commodities and don’t really care - you’re just a transaction - are going to suffer. I really believe that. I think community ties and relationships are going to be stronger than ever.

Catherine Robertson’s seventh novel – the third book in the Gabriel’s Bay series – is due out in 2021.

Wainuiomata, New Zealand

Wainuiomata, New Zealand