My lockdown novel
27th May 2022
Local author, Rachel Hore, shares her experiences of writing a novel during lockdown, the newly published One Moonlit Night, set in part in Norfolk
We all had to adjust in individual, often difficult ways to living in lockdown. To the casual observer being a novelist might seem an ideal occupation for endless hours of solitude. This impression is to some extent true. Being allowed out of the house only for food and exercise certainly presented the opportunity to get on with some serious hard work. My husband, writer D.J. Taylor, compiled an entire collection of short stories during the first year of lockdown (Stewkey Blues, published in March 2022 by Salt). These tales, set in Norwich and Norfolk, were distilled from his experience of living in the region and required little further research.
My novels involve a great deal of time visiting locations, libraries and archives and sometimes talking to people about their memories or expertise. None of that was possible while travel was curtailed, libraries were closed and we couldn’t meet anyone.
I’d virtually completed my previous novel by March 2020, the start of the first lockdown. A Beautiful Spy, set in the 1930s, was the story of a young woman who risked her life whilst spying on members of the Communist Party for MI5. I had intended to visit a library in Cambridge to examine newspapers of the period but had in the end to leave out detail that I might have mined there because the archive was closed.
By June that year I’d submitted the manuscript to my editor and was already biting my nails about what to write next given the sequestered circumstances. I’d planned to write about the Second World War again, but the only foreign setting I felt confident to evoke without revisiting was France. Norfolk, also, I knew well. So I cut my coat according to my cloth and framed a story about a husband who’d gone missing in France in 1940 while his wife and daughters sought sanctuary from the Blitz in the old Norfolk manor house where he’d lived as a child and which turned out to hold a terrible secret.
I still needed to research the period – books were the answer as they often are, as is the internet! I recall a surreal day just before the first lockdown, when Norwich Millennium Library invited members to dash in and borrow as many books as they could carry. I was down there like a shot and denuded the shelves of Second World War history.
In the first months of lockdown especially, I think all of us lived in a state of high anxiety. We were glued to news bulletins, worried about friends and relatives, especially those who were elderly and vulnerable. We longed to see loved ones face-to-face and in some awful cases were barred from saying goodbye to them. David and I were cut off from seeing our elderly mothers and knew that they suffered in their isolation. This together with the endless rounds of frightening news caused me to suffer a constant high-pitched buzz of anxiety that prevented me from easily losing myself in my writing. My husband managed better than I did – he’s able to focus better -but I found it very difficult to concentrate for long. It was a relief two afternoons a week to close our laptops and drive round Norfolk with food parcels on behalf of the amazing Trussell Trust Foodbank.
Looking back, I’m surprised that One Moonlit Night got written at all, but bit by bit it did and I delivered it to my editor on time. This lockdown novel has just been published in hardback. A Zoom launch for A Beautiful Spy organized by Jarrold’s last year went off beautifully, but it was a great relief to have a real life event for One Moonlit Night last week.
Rachel Hore worked in London publishing for many years before moving with her family to Norwich, where she taught publishing and creative writing at the University of East Anglia before becoming a full-time writer. She is married to the writer D.J. Taylor and they have three sons. Her novels are Sunday Times bestsellers.
One Moonlit Night by Rachel Hore is published by Simon & Schuster, £16.99