Updated: Mar 31
Last Thursday, under the increasing shadow of the Corona Virus, I finished the latest series in the Crime Fiction Writing Classes I provide for Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council. With a dedicated and talented bunch of students we'd had four weeks of intense sessions on the writing of crime fiction and the learning of the business of being an author, with my intention being to share my knowledge, experiences and mistakes so that others who wish to start their writing journey do not repeat them.
Despite the backdrop of the virus and the fears associated with it, we left relatively buoyed, the students off to continue their works, me hopefully (and finally) finishing my current book, as well as announcing the programme for The Northern Ireland Festival of Writing 2020.
There was a lot to look forward to...and then there wasn't.
As the shadow of the virus began to loom larger every day, Noireland (one of the highpoints in my Festival Calendar had to reschedule. That was a blow but as they say, every cloud and all that. It has been rescheduled for my birthday (if circumstances allow).
Next came our decision to reschedule the Northern Ireland Festival of Writing. This of course was not a decision taken lightly but a necessary one nonetheless. This was of course difficult enough in itself but we also had to take the equally difficult decision to proceed with a CrowdFund project in a time when the economy is on the verge of collapse and we're facing an unprecedented medical emergency. So why did we do it? The short answer is that we would lose out on a MatchFund from a Government body of £5,000 if we hadn't. The role of the Festival is an important one, particularly in the development and preservation of The Arts in Northern Ireland so we needed to take every possible step to ensure that at some point in the future, we would be able to deliver.
As well as all this I had to cancel several classes and workshops, end my work with local schools and watch whilst my friends and colleagues in the writing community suffered similarly, all the while worrying about the impact that the virus was currently having on my family, friends and loved ones as we increasingly socially isolate from one another. It felt like every time I was getting a handle on things, the goalposts were being moved.
Of course, that was when I learned that as always, the writing community were mobilising to help one another. Through the #CrimeCarePackage a very worthwhile initiative undertaken by a group of local writers in conjunction with No Alibis Bookstore, and the actions and reactions of fellow writers, I learned, or at least relearned a very important lesson. That was that I hadn't gotten this far without resilience and adaptability (none of us have), some of the very qualities I had been trying to further develop in my students. I also hadn't made it this far without the help of the #WritingCommunity.
The upshot is that I have adapted and am currently putting in place new ways of working. My Crime Fiction Class now talk regularly through a WhatsApp Group, supporting each other in writing and in life. My friends and colleagues in the writing community doing likewise. Some of my work with schools and my work with Edge Hill University is now being done remotely, and the planning for The Northern Ireland Festival of Writing is being adapted also.
Obviously none of us know what Covid-19 has planned for us and although there may be dark times ahead, we know that we have the support of those around us, our loved ones and communities. We also have our art. It goes without saying that writing (even if it comes in the form of a blog like this one) can have a positive effect on our mental health, especially in the current circumstances #KeepWriting.
Details of our CrowdFund Campaign below, if you would like to take a look. I would ask that you share as far and as wide as possible. Thanks. James. https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-northern-ireland-festival-of-writing?fbclid=IwAR2lV79uYSxjnbBN3ciF-ZXFyqUIpzLrG0RJ9idkCvVsudhb7JC8cOvy7iE