Counting my lockdown blessings

Wendy Holden
Opinion - Books Wednesday, 22nd April 2020

Wendy Holden was looking forward to the appearance of three new titles this spring, until Covid-19 struck. But the stories in those titles have put her problems into perspective


It's not often that an author finds herself with not one but three books coming out within the space of two weeks, but that's exactly what was about to happen with me. Two of the books are paperback releases of hardbacks published last year, and the third is a special new edition to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II.

What should have been a triple celebration of this momentous occasion in a writing career spanning four decades, however, has turned into something of a nightmare. The coronavirus pandemic has effectively closed all bookshops and massively disrupted distribution, marketing and sales. Up until 10 days ago I had a European and Brazilian tour lined up, a television interview, book launch parties, literary festival appearances, radio slots, public speaking engagements, and a creative writing course to host. Instead, as publishers and publicists, the media and festival organisers have decamped to their homes to juggle schooling with the day-to-day running of the business we all earn our crust from, everything has fallen away. To add insult to injury, Amazon has warned publishers that books may be considered "non-essential" items, and that the "Buy" buttons could disappear from many book listings from 1 May.

"What was going to be my bumper comeback year has become potentially our worst in decades"


At a time when it seems to this author that books have never been more essential, the systematic amputation of almost every limb that moves the publishing process forward is potentially devastating. No matter how much I try to "social media the hell" out of my three new "babies", the bottom line is that even the most loyal of my readers are likely to experience difficulties in buying them. And by the time the virus has finally burned itself out, those outlets that have survived will be inundated with a tsunami of new titles, which will have been held back for that very moment.

I realise that this is a "First World problem", and appreciate that I am far more fortunate than most. Nobody I love has caught the virus, thankfully. I live in a beautiful part of Suffolk, where we grow our own vegetables and can walk the dogs every day. I have worked from home for over 20 years, so the concept is both familiar and comfortable, plus I don't have young children to home-school. My husband is an extremely capable smallholder and occasional builder and can keep us warm, fed and safe. But we do still rely on my income for what we have and - after 18 months of ill health kept me off work - what was going to be my bumper comeback year has become potentially our worst in decades.

When my friends ask me how I can remain so cheerful in the face of this latest catastrophe, I tell them that the answer lies within the pages of the very books I've been talking about. Two of them are Holocaust memoirs in which three young mothers and a teenage girl with everything to look forward to suddenly found themselves in unspeakable circumstances and in daily fear for their lives, having lost everyone they ever loved. The other tells of another remarkable woman, who refused to accept the life that her country's archaic traditions expected of her and broke free to make a difference to almost everyone she met. It is these five singular women I look to now, and whose experiences have marked me for life. Writing about them so immersively, I feel that I came to know them all so well, and only hope that some of their courage, wisdom and resilience has rubbed off on me.

If three pregnant women can defy the Nazis and give birth in the camps, if a young piano prodigy with hands broken by slave labour can go on to become one of the world's foremost musicians, and if a little girl who promised to build her father a hospital finally fulfils that wish after a lifetime of adversity, then who am I to complain? The stories of these women are timeless. They will not disappear. One has been pushed back until November in the hope that the pandemic will be over by then. All of them chronicle remarkable lives and are awaiting future readers to inspire. As I embark on a series of virtual launches, blog tours, readings, podcasts and do whatever I can online to tell the world about them with the help of some wonderfully supportive publishers, I am confident that the light each of these courageous women shines on our troubled world will not go unnoticed.

Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance and Survival by Wendy Holden. Sphere (special WWII 75th anniversary edition published 30 April) £8.99

One Hundred Miracles: Music, Auschwitz, Survival and Love by Zuzana Ružičková. Bloomsbury (paperback published 14 May) £9.99

A Woman of Firsts: The Midwife who Changed the World by Edna Adan Ismail. HQ (paperback now to be published 26 November) £9.99

Wendy Holden has moved her creative writing courses online, starting 5 May. See strangemediagroup.com/courses for more information or www.wendyholden.com.

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