Lemonade, With A Cherry On Top , by Cathy Ace
(Or, How Lockdown Celebrations Can Be “Fun”!)
2020 was always going to be a Big Year for me. I was going to celebrate my 60th birthday in style: husband and I would relax on a cruise around the Caribbean islands and across the Atlantic to Southampton, then we’d drive to Swansea to celebrate my Big Day in Wales with my mum, sister, and in-laws (Husband is also from Swansea). A few days with the family, then back home to Vancouver, Canada to launch a book…with lots of face-to-face events planned, including a trip back to the UK to attend CrimeFest in June. Sorted. Then something happened to bring even those celebrations to a higher level; a meeting in Vegas in January (where else?!), followed by signing contracts in February to have my Cait Morgan Mysteries made into a series of 90-minute adaptations for TV by the wonderful company that makes the brilliant Agatha Raisin series, Free@LastTV. I was, to put it bluntly, on cloud nine! That was 1 February 2020. Hmm…
I’d been a little behind schedule (!!) writing the book being launched in June, so found myself having to finish writing it on the back deck of the cruise ship. The photo shows that this is an extremely attractive spot to work, so I don’t expect any sympathy. But, yes, we were two of those people bobbing about in the Caribbean when the world was going to hell: we disembarked in Miami on 15 March, and the world had changed forever.
The final nine days onboard had a more-than-surreal edge: we watched the news on TV every day, saw what was happening around the world, then left our cabin to be faced with the “normal” onboard life of being waited on hand and foot, even as the stress levels among crew members soared. Each refreshing drink was served with a smile, then a whispered insider’s update. Not good. The bizarre nature of our time at sea was heightened by the fact there were 1500 people on board who belonged to a cult – yes, an honest-to-goodness cult – where positive thinking and hugging, as opposed to frequent hand-washing and staying apart from others, seemed to be the way they dealt with everything. There was a LOT of hugging on that cruise…despite the rising tension among the non-cult-member passengers and the crew. We all knew that people were getting ill on ships (fortunately, no one succumbed on ours) and we were nervously counting the days until we disembarked, hoping there’d be a flight to get us home to Vancouver when we did. There was, and that’s where we’ve been ever since. Thankfully healthy.
But…my fantastic news about having my work optioned wasn’t announced in the usual way – the entire industry shut down, and that was that. And, even worse, I couldn’t get to see my mum and sister…and I have no idea when I’ll be able to again (they’re both in self-isolation, and healthy, which is good, though, at 85, Mum’s going to be unable to mix with her albeit-limited social circle for a very long time, I fear).
I finished editing the book during the 14 days when I was in strict, enforceable lockdown (as all those who’d been outside either British Columbia or any part of Canada had to do from 15 March onwards) and have to admit it wasn’t the sharpest manuscript I’ve ever submitted. But my editor in the UK, Anna Harrisson, did a brilliant job at her end of things, despite the fact she was having to homeschool her children, and still keep on top of her contracts. My copy editor, Sue Vincent, also managed to meet all her deadlines too. People are brilliant under pressure, aren’t they?! I’ll admit I’ve reworked some of the book since then (my mind wasn’t at its clearest when I submitted my theoretically-final version of the manuscript to Anna) and I had to cancel all of my in-person launch activities, of course. Plus, Malice Domestic was cancelled, CrimeFest was cancelled, Harrogate was cancelled, and Bouchercon was cancelled. Everything was cancelled.
Or maybe not quite everything…because the lemonade we’re all busy making these days can have a cherry on top, can’t it?
My 60th birthday was celebrated in lockdown – and I have to say I’ll never be able to thank my sister enough for the complex way she went about getting her mobile phone into Mum’s hands so I could see them – appropriately distanced – on that day. It meant a great deal. Three of my six grandchildren crafted 60 hearts with messages on them and popped them onto my front doorstep like a trio of ninja. Lovely. And Husband and I were together, and safe (as we were for our recent wedding anniversary…which we would have celebrated in Vegas). Funny how much more the word “safe” conveys nowadays, isn’t it?
In May I also got the all-clear to make the announcement about the option on the Cait Morgan Mysteries – though, of course, the entire production process is now up in the air, alongside a great number of other, much more important things in life. However, you only ever get your first option once, so I was pleased to be able to let folks know about it, even months after it had happened.
From Facebook events to lockdown online interactions, from podcasts to Zooming – which is now a verb we all understand, all these things have taken the place of dragging wheelie-bags full of books from in-person event to in-person event. It’s different, but…it’s something. The book WILL be launched on 29 June 2020, but it will be a launch unlike any I’ve done before. Fingers crossed the book will find its readers.
And, you know what? Through it all, those are the people – the readers – who’ve come up trumps (an interesting word, these days) for we authors, aren’t they? Driving sales by being patient if they want to collect a print book from a bookseller who’s reimagined their business model, or digging into backlists by downloading digital books to read when there’s more time to do it. I’m sure I speak on behalf of every author who is able to benefit from their love of books when I say “Thank you, readers”, but I also speak on behalf of authors unable to meet readers in person when I say “We miss seeing you”.
Ultimately, I’m learning that lemonade with a cherry or two on top is actually a far-from-unpleasant experience. I wish all authors the focus they need to be able to keep creating; I wish everyone in the publishing business – including the bloggers and reviewers who are finding their worlds upended too – the imagination and perseverance it takes to keep the path between authors and readers open and engaging, and I wish all readers the ability to find solace in these difficult times in books…however they choose to read, or even listen to, them.
And I wish everyone at least one cherry to sweeten their lemonade.
Read more about Cathy and her books here.