Instead of bookshop signings and literary festivals, authors are now squeezing editing in between home schooling and taking to Zoom to launch books. Linda Stewart talks to four creatives who are putting pen to paper in 2021.
'I've been researching the Blitz for my next novel'
Author Lucy Caldwell (39), from east Belfast, has just finished her first novel in a decade and is publishing her second collection of short stories, Intimacies, in March after it was postponed for a year. She is married to architect Tom and has two children, William (6) and Orla Rose (3).
Lucy says that for a long time she had been concentrating almost exclusively on short stories: "I love writing short stories and I really didn't think I would ever do a novel again.
"My first collection of short stories was Multitudes, published in 2016, and they were stories that were all told by young women, all growing up in Belfast, and the final few were between Belfast and London. They tried to tell the stories of women's experiences and they were the sort of stories which I think were often missing when you're thinking of Belfast in those times.
"So Intimacies is the big sister collection to that - they're older, in their 20s and the stories are set between Belfast and London. That collection was all ready to roll and I didn't even have any more copies left myself because I'd given them all away - and then the pandemic hit."
Lucy's publishers Faber & Faber decided to postpone the launch for a year and Multitudes is now due to launch this spring.
Meanwhile, Lucy spent much of 2020 researching and writing her first novel in 10 years, set during the Belfast Blitz and due to be published in 2022.
"I've been reading the PRONI archives and researching oral histories and speaking to people who were children in the Belfast Blitz - it happened between April and May 1941 in four separate bombings," she says.
"Every morning I was up and reading about the Blitz. I felt like a window opened between our time and theirs - every day I was reading that day's newspaper for 1941 while I was writing my novel and it felt very alive to me," she says.
"I had the first draft of it done in 11 or 12 weeks which is really short for a novel and then spent the rest of the year slowly revising and working on it, and I gave it to Faber just before Christmas.
"The Belfast Blitz killed more people than any other Blitz apart from one or two of the ones in London, and yet it's not that well known - hardly anything in fiction has been written about it.
"These people I interviewed were children or five or six during the Blitz in Belfast - they're now in their 80s and they've been able to speak to me about their experiences."
Intimacies is published in March by Faber & Faber
'Where I live is beautiful, I'd go crazy living in a city'
Dara McAnulty (16), from Castlewellan, made waves in 2020 with his debut book Diary of a Young Naturalist, winning the Wainwright Prize for UK nature writing in 2020 after becoming the youngest author to be shortlisted for the award. He lives with his parents Roisin and Paul, brother Lorcan (15) and sister Blathnaid (11). He's publishing his children's picture book 'Wild Child' in July.
Dara, who is autistic, felt enthralled by nature since he was a small child and took to blogging on his page Young Fermanagh Naturalist at the age of 12, pouring his fascination with nature into his writing.
"Writing was a way of expressing my voice. I found it a lot more comfortable because I had all those thoughts in my head and no real way of getting them out, and writing was the way I did it," he says.
He wrote his debut book between 2018 and 2019 after he was approached by a publisher who was intrigued by his blog and it was published in May 2020 during lockdown: "It was intense because all the launch plans that we had, the publishers said, 'oh we can't do that anymore'.
"But it was exhilarating to have people read something that you put so much of your heart and soul into. It felt like almost validating that young people can write and our opinions are valued."
Now back in lockdown again, Dara is looking forward to July when he publishes his forthcoming picture book Wild Child which is aimed at kids aged six and over, and is a multi-sensory journey through nature, from the garden to the forest, heath and rivers, featuring a mix of prose, science and activity.
He's delighted to be teaming up once again with illustrator Barry Falls, who designed the cover for his debut book: "He's amazing - everybody loves his covers. I went to look at lots of different jackets for the book and I was like 'That one'. It really captured the essence of the books."
He's also working on Wanderings of a Young Naturalist for Ebury, exploring the changing landscape and bringing together Dara's beloved Irish mythology and storytelling with poetry, nature and the exploration of ancient Irish monuments.
"I'm obsessed with mythology - it's one of the things I get really excited about and I go off on a million different tangents about it," he says.
Currently in the first year of A-levels, Dara says Castlewellan Forest Park has been his life support over the last year.
"This place where I live is so beautiful, nestling between the sea, the mountains, the forest, and joining all these habits and creating these beautiful swirls. I feel like I would go crazy if I was in Belfast and couldn't leave my house at all - I would probably have gone utterly insane," he admits.
"I found writing itself really difficult because you had this background fuzz in your mind. I needed to write - I was in the limbo of struggling to write but needing to write.
"I feel like I'll remember this for the rest of my life, that summer period, the people I got to talk to, the people I was interviewed by. It was incredible, it was difficult, but it was probably one of the most rewarding things that I have ever done."
Wild Child will be published by Macmillan Children's Books on July 8
‘I ‘ve been kept busy editing and promoting my book’
'I 've been kept busy editing and promoting my book' Kelly Creighton (41), from Newtownards, has written six books, including the east Belfast-set DI Harriet Sloane police procedural series, of which the first two books were published in 2020. She is married to Ryan and has four children, Maddy (18), Jude (16), Johan (13) and Martha (9). She is publishing her second short story collection, Everybody's Happy, in May and the third book in her DI Harriett Sloane series later in the year.
"When lockdown happened I was just about to launch the first book of the DI Harriet Sloane series, called The Sleeping Season. It came out in March, a week after lockdown, so I missed out on the physical launch for that book - it all went by the wayside," she says.
"So during lockdown I was trying to promote that book and edit the second book in the series, which came out in November. I was also co-editing an anthology which came out in November, so it was the strangest year, but also the busiest."
The short story collection, Everybody's Happy, features eight stories all set in the art world.
"I started off as a visual artist, so I find it's going into a lot of the stories I've written more recently," Kelly says.
"They are a little bit satirical and a bit dark - well, not dark, but light and dark."
Meanwhile, the yet-to-be named DI Harriet Sloane book has a cold case as its backdrop, she says.
"It's about a crime that happened about 40 years ago and trying to crack that case," she says.
"However, I'm glad that I haven't got the fourth book in the series plotted yet.
"I was kind of waiting to see what happened and I'm glad I did, because otherwise it wouldn't have been relevant. I like to be relevant to what's happening politically and in society in the timeline.
"I think the fourth book will touch on the pandemic, I don't want to read a pandemic book either, but I think we probably all have to mention it in some way in our work - there is no escaping it!
"I'm looking forward to a point when the hotels and hospitality open again and I hope to book some time to go to the writer's retreat at River Mill and immerse myself in editing and writing the next book.
"It's a bit of a lifesaver to be able to get away from everything and get your headspace to really think about your work."
Everybody's Happy will be published by Incubator Editions and the DI Harriet Sloane series is published by Friday Press.
'My debut work has a cult following in America'
Michelle Gallen (45), from Castlederg, had her debut novel Big Girl, Small Town nominated for the Costa First Novel Award in 2020. She lives in Dublin with her husband Mehdi and two sons Ronan (9) and Cillian (5). The paperback edition of Big Girl, Small Town is published in February and she is currently working on her second book, Factory Girls, and an as yet untitled third book.
Written 10 years ago, her debut novel was finally published in February 2020, around 20 days before the Covid outbreak really hit.
"You have this book where this woman, Majella, doesn't leave the town," she says.
"So I had this life where I travelled around seeing people and doing things and the next thing my book is out in the world and I'm in my house, not even getting to the chipper, you know!"
Michelle is shielding as a result of a long-term condition resulting from encephalitis that left her with a brain injury more than 10 years ago, so she spent much of 2020 working on her second novel, doing DIY on "a house that needs a lot of work" and homeschooling her children.
Her debut book did "spectacularly well" in America after it was published there at the start of December.
"I've been trying to publish a book from the age of 15, and to finally have a book come out and be a success - that was a huge life raft in the middle of it. It seemed to get a cult following in American, and really good feedback and attention - it was so exciting," she says.
"I am currently finishing my second novel which is called Factory Girls.
"It's set in a factory in the same year as the ceasefire with three girls who have just finished their A-levels and are waiting for their exam results, and they don't know if they will do well enough to get out of town.
"Slowly they realise over the summer that the boss is crooked and is fleecing the factory - it all goes wrong and they all learn some pretty harsh lessons."
Michelle is also about 20,000 words into her third novel which has quite a different tone from the first two.
"It's set in the countryside, it's in a much younger voice and it's exploring what a rural childhood might have been like in Northern Ireland years ago. I am really interested in the third book because it's quite different from the other two," she says.
The paperback edition of Big Girl, Small Town will be published by John Murray in February.