Joyous Isolation

by Joy Mutter

I feel guilty about how little the coronavirus pandemic has been affecting my everyday life compared to so many other people. As a sixty-five-year-old full-time indie author living alone nursing a chronic back problem, I rarely leave my house or socialise. Before you feel sorry for me, I’m fine with solitude because it allows me to write. I have a pars defect which means nerves are trapped between slipped vertebrae. Specialists tell me they would only operate on me if I can’t walk at all as it’d be too dangerous and could make the problem worse. Many people have far worse ailments and I’m resigned to the fact the condition will remain the same or worsen as my GP cheerfully told me it will. It restricts my mobility, but my overactive imagination helps me live a full and interesting life where I can imagine myself wherever I want to be. After spending decades unhampered by pain, I now live most of my life vicariously, existing within the different worlds inhabited by my book’s characters.

There’s been more online interaction than usual between me, my friends, and family since the outbreak began. I’ve particularly enjoyed my fun and instructive Zoom meetings with my fellow authors in the Oldham Writing Group. Using Zoom saved me a taxi ride to and from Oldham Library and gave us all a chance to snoop on each other’s natural habitats. Even my mother in Jersey clicked the video button on Facebook Messenger for the first time so we could see each other as we chatted. It was also the last time we used the video function because we looked awful. Our voices sounded croaky due to our rarely used vocal cords. Since moving to Oldham eight years ago, I regularly go for days, sometimes weeks, without talking to anyone except online. When people do phone me, I’ve noticed they usually all call at the same time, often when I’m on the toilet, thanks to the Law of Sod.

 Shortly before lockdown, Mum and I enjoyed a wonderful week together at a luxury beachside Jersey hotel with a large group of relatives and friends to celebrate her ninetieth birthday. She set the dancefloor alight while I sat and watched in admiration. 

I flew back to Manchester airport on 12th March and have rarely set foot outside my front door, even for Government-prescribed exercise, except on the 27th April when I was forced out of my sanctuary to walk to a letterbox to post an urgent form. As soon as I left the house, I had closer contact than was safe or pleasant with a man a few doors down from me. He was trying to retrieve his runaway dog who hurtled towards me barking like a maniac. ‘Don’t want to get too close to you,’ I said to the man, wishing I hadn’t put extra emphasis on the word, ‘you’. I thought it might have sounded rude, so shouted over my shoulder as I continued to puff and wheeze towards the post box, ‘Nothing personal.’ He didn’t look impressed.

I have been stepping outside for the 8 pm clap each Thursday with neighbours. Although I’ve lived in this leafy avenue for years, we don’t know each other, so wave and smile from afar. My next-door neighbours, who I know well, have never emerged to clap on Thursdays. I sometimes wonder why. I know they’re alive because I sometimes hear the mother bellowing at her screaming brood. Her husband, Lee, knocked on my door during the third week of lockdown. He looked shifty and I wondered what the problem was. He furtively produced a bag of groceries for me as though it was a consignment of cocaine and placed it on my front path. 

‘I thought you might need some provisions,’ said Lee, backing away. 

I thanked Lee profusely before he scuttled back into his house. Bless him. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that Tesco was delivering me a ton of groceries the next day. 

I only shop online as physical shopping is impossible due to my back problem and lack of transport or help. Window shopping is a distant memory. My doctor didn’t designate me as one of the vulnerable people who require privileged deliveries, so I’ve scanned the Tesco online site daily for delivery slots. Although they’re as rare as hen’s teeth, I’ve occasionally struck lucky and nabbed a precious slot. I started lockdown with 16 toilet rolls. Like my mother, I’ve always been a hoarder of provisions. Now that toilet rolls have reappeared on supermarket shelves after people stockpiled them at the beginning of the crisis, I’ve added a pack of toilet rolls whenever Tesco deliver. I now have 51 rolls. My mother informs me that they should last me my lifetime, but I plan to live longer than that.

I haven’t lost an ounce of weight over the past two months. Quite the reverse. I used to be almost six feet tall and skinny but have shrunk four inches in height over the years. Physical exercise is painful and can cause flare-ups, so I avoid it, which is why I’ve gained a scary number of inches in circumference. Writing, editing, designing, and publishing my books means most of my exercise takes place in my brain these days. Nothing gives me more pleasure than living with all my WIP’s diverse characters each day. Nothing. I’m never alone with a demented serial killer or troubled teen running around in my head demanding my attention.

Watering my garden has been my main source of physical exercise as I can’t stand for more than a few minutes without severe back pain kicking in. Because of this, cooking and washing dishes is a daily challenge and vacuuming rarely happens. Mowing the lawn is impossible. A month into lockdown, I was surprised and delighted when my gardener unexpectedly appeared and mowed my lawn for the first time this year. As an indie author, I’m far from rich, but I’m happy to pay for others to mow it. I thought gardeners wouldn’t be working during the lockdown and had resigned myself to my lawn becoming a weed-strewn meadow, but my monosyllabic gardener soon restored my back garden to its former glory. My side of the hedge in the front now looks perfect, but my neighbour hasn’t trimmed his side yet, so it looks a bit daft. My magnolia tree looked cruelly glorious for a couple of weeks before spoiling things by shedding its white blossoms everywhere. Lawn Mower Man soon removed the debris in his leaf sucker. I noticed he’d strimmed off far too much from one of my ornamental bushes. He’s probably putting his life at risk cutting clients’ lawns, so I didn’t complain.

As if to taunt those isolating with no outdoor space, the sun has shone throughout much of this strange, tragic yet often inspirational time. Thirty-two million cheers for Colonel Tom! Hip, hip, hooray! I’ve enjoyed sunbathing ever since childhood when I lived opposite a beach on the east coast of Jersey. Books have always been my addiction. Devouring countless authors’ books while sunbathing on ‘my’ beach as a pre-teen is to blame for me becoming a published author. As I lay on my towel reading Agatha Christie, Ray Bradbury, and countless other books, I wished I could be an author, too. I thought it was a pipedream, but fifty or so years later and, hey presto, I discover I am one. My fourteen books are on Amazon and two more books will follow shortly. Another two thrillers are partway written. Nine books have audiobook editions on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

I’ve spent happy hours during lockdown sunbathing in my back garden listening to audiobooks of The Journey by Conrad Jones and The Cruel, Cruel Sea by Linda Huber. I’m now listening to a gruesome John Nicholls audiobook. With nine audiobooks of my own, it’s interesting to discover how well a narrator does. I’m full of admiration for narrators’ hard work after having narrated and sound-edited two of my audiobooks. Sound-editing is a killer and I won’t be repeating the experience. From now on, I’m leaving it to the professionals. Paying narrators has been my only publishing expense, so whatever I earn from my books is profit. Audiobooks have been more profitable than my Kindles and paperbacks.

I’d pay to advertise my books if I was wealthier. Word of mouth, Twitter, Goodreads, or Facebook book group pages are how I promote my work. Spending a modest amount of money on promotional postcards has been worth it. When someone asks what sort of books I write, I hand them a postcard to save me having to waffle. It would’ve been simpler, and I might have been more successful if I’d only written one genre of book. As I get bored easily, I’ve written three third-person autobiographies, a non-fiction illustrated book about old postcards, one psychological, three erotic, one crime, and four paranormal thrillers, a short story collection and a novel since 2015. I’ll probably continue to publish thrillers of all kinds as that’s the genre I most enjoy writing. Readers seem to like my thrillers more than my other books, especially The Hostile series. 

After publishing my first four books on Amazon in 2015, I admit I became a book bore for two or three years. These days, I try to be less intense when talking about my books and writing. It’s sometimes hard to hide my passion from taxi drivers, Tesco deliverymen or anyone who’ll listen. I try my best to hold back these days because I’d hate to be identified as The Scary Book Lady. 

During the lockdown, I published an explicit erotic thriller called The Trouble With Trouble. It can easiest be described as Line of Duty but with sex. I’m currently working each day on the final edits of the next two books in The Trouble series. The weeks under the quarantine cosh have passed swiftly as I’ve also been catching up on television programmes of all kinds and turning deepening shades of brown in my garden. Subscribing to Netflix and putting a second Sky box in my bedroom last year stopped me reading in bed. I’m trying to wean myself off watching television before sleep because there are so many books I want to read and I’m not getting any younger.

After selling my house in Kent in 2012 when my back problem changed my life, I bought a cheaper house I love in Oldham, then cashed in my private pension rather than receive disability benefits. The state pension is coming my way in November 2020. It’ll hopefully make life easier as I’ve been self-supporting all my life despite my physical challenges. Nothing will change for me once we’re no longer in danger from the Plague, whenever that may be. In my joyous self-imposed isolation, I hope to continue producing books readers love to read until the day I die. Finally, I wish us all a huge dollop of luck in these crazy, worrying, challenging, and tragic times.

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