How to be alone. (or how to beat the mehs).

Screenshot 2020-03-28 at 11.00.12A lot of my friends are struggling with being alone during lockdown. Quite a few of them are openly discussing “how not to go mad” during lockdown. For many of them, this is the longest period they’ve ever had to stay home alone, and it really isn’t easy.

The first few days might feel like a holiday – you lounge on the sofa, you watch Netflix. But by day 3, it’s starting to feel slow. By day 7 it’s starting to feel really slow. And by day 10 you’re listening to the government extend the lockdown by another 2 weeks and trying hard not to cry.

Now, I’m not going to give you one of those “make this time wonderful” speeches. If you can “make this time wonderful” then great, do it. But for many of us being alone, being lonely, is hard. So I’m far more about how to survive this, than how to have an orgasm over it.

I’m no psychologist, so take none of this as gospel, but I have spent a lot of time in isolation in my life. Being a writer is, by definition, an isolating kind of a job. Being a single writer, which I was for many years, even more so. As for being a single writer, snowed in for 3 months of the year in a tiny house in the Alps without internet, and sometimes even without electricity… well you get the picture.

It wasn’t easy, but I made it and you can too. Being alone and isolated for long periods of time isn’t easy. But you can get better at it. You can learn how to do it better. So here are my top tips for surviving lockdown without going completely bonkers.

The ingredients for a wholesome day.
For a day to feel wholesome it needs, IMHO five main ingredients.

  • Structure.
  • Food for the body.
  • Food for the brain.
  • Exercice.
  • Contact.

If you’re feeling meh, then all of these will feel like an effort. But the route to depression is giving in to the dark side that is meh. And the route to feeling sane is exercising willpower to push it back into its box.
– So cook yourself a healthy meal (Food for the body). Do not give in to the desire to exist exclusively on chocolate ice cream or whatever is your fetish food.
– Read a book, or write something, or learn a language (there are online courses), or practice that musical instrument or paint that picture. Or play chess. (Food for the brain).
Exercise. If you’re normally fit and healthy and allowed to get out, then do it! It’s important. Go for a walk, or go for a run. If it’s raining, put on a hoodie and do it anyway.
And if you can’t get out, do yoga, or pilates, or keep fit. You don’t need any equipment to do any of these, just google “30 days of yoga with Adrienne” or “5BX Canadian airforce exercises” and get going. Stay fit. Or if you’re not fit, use this time to get fit.
– Talk to at least one person every day. (Contact). Make that phone call. Or Skype chat. Or Facetime. Talking to other human beings is essential to your mental health. Try not to moan too much or talk about the damned virus while you’re chatting. Talk about your last holiday. Or where you want to go next. Or how you’re getting on with learning Japanese. Talking about real life is important, because it reminds you that this shall pass. There will be holidays in the sun. There will be family dinners again.
– Finally, Structure. Your normal life is probably pretty structured. Most of us live constantly watching the clock as we calculate if it’s time to move onto the “next thing.”
Initially, that lack of structure will give you a feeling of freedom. It’s the “holiday” feeling that says you can lay on the couch for two hours staring at the TV eating Mars bars if you want to. But after a few days that lack of structure may well make you feel meh. And meh as we know is the enemy. So structure your day and beat it.

My own regime to avoid going nutty is something like this:
8:30 (or when awake) Get up.
8:30-10 (slow lazy breakfast, read papers).
10-10:30 Yoga with Adrienne on Youtube.
10:30-11:00 Shower.
11:00-12:30 Write (or on weekends, read).
12:30-2:00 Cook and eat lunch.
2:00-4:30 Write.
4:30-5:30 Go for walk or run.
5:30-7:00 watch Netflix or Prime video series.
7:00-8:00 Watch news and cook dinner.
8:00-9:00 Talk to someone.
9:00- 11:00 Watch a proper film or read a book.

The point about having a schedule, is that whenever the sense of emptiness and meh starts to wash over you, there’s always something you should be doing. So instead of having to be creative at the very moment you’re feeling the worst, all you have to do is get with the program and do whatever is next on the list.

You’ll obviously need to tailor this to your own hours and your own needs. For instance, if you’re not a writer, then you’ll need to find something else to replace the hours I spend writing. There are a thousand things you can learn to do online, and I’ll bet there’s at least something you’ve always wanted to do. Well, now’s your chance. Do it. Learn to speak french. Learn to paint. Learn to draw. Learn yoga. It doesn’t matter what you learn as long as at some point during the day you use your brain. It’ll be hard to get yourself to sit down and do it, but you can do this. And when you do, you’ll feel better.

Finally some random warning tips:

Alcohol. If you’re a drinker, it can be an easy time to start drinking too much. And much like the “being on holiday” thing, this will initially make you feel better. But if you drink every day it will end up making you feel depressed. So if you were a weekend drinker before, then try to be a weekend drinker now. Obviously rules about only drinking socially are more complicated now – if you’re drinking it will almost certainly be alone. But organise a Skype date with a friend and have a drink with them on Saturday night. And give yourself at least 4 alcohol free days a week if you can.

News. For the last fifty years or so, “news” had meant almost exclusively “bad news”. At the moment “news” generally means “terrible news.”
You do not need to follow the details of every CV19 death. It will not help you. It won’t save anyone else either. But it will fuck with your mental health. So decide consciously how much news you want to consume.
I’ve limited myself to the newspapers over breakfast and an hour in the evening, and even that’s quite a lot of stress, I find. During the rest of the day I force myself not to look. Because all the constant updates were pushing me to the edge of a panic attack. So choose how much you want to know. As long as you’re scared enough to stay indoors, that’s enough. You don’t need any more.

Edit: Music. I can’t believe I forgot music! Music is one of the most efficient mood changers (drugs excepted) known to man. You may think about playing some music and think meh. But that’s the point about music. You don’t need to be in the mood. Music creates mood. So put your favourite tunes on. Dance with the cat (if the cat’s willing). Dance with a stuffed toy or a cushion, or the mop. Dance alone, who cares? There’s no one there to see you anyway, is there? (If there is, you should probably dance with them). But nothing is better for cheering yourself up than singing along and dancing. Just avoid the sad songs, for now, eh? Unless of course you need to have a cry. In which case go for it. Here’s a link to my cheesy dance list, in case you’re short of inspiration: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7CXKrw7Rj5MOnGY7xuvhUX?si=jcVVCtYwQwGI_V8XlCISxw

Voila, my friends. I think that’s it.
We will get through this. And when we do we’ll be romping on beaches and drinking in pubs and eating takeway pizzas in parks. Just remember it. We’ll get there.
In the meantime, love and luck to you all. Stay indoors. Stay healthy. Stay safe.

And if you have any tips of your own, please post them as comments below.

Nick xxx

 

Writing in the time of Covid19

As an author living in France, being stuck indoors for weeks because of the Coronavirus doesn’t sound that different perhaps to everyday life.

IMG_4585 copy
We authors certainly know how to spend time alone.
Most of us, working in isolation every day, already have routines to keep ourselves sane: the cups of coffee, the morning yoga, the afternoon jog, whatever it takes to keep mind and body healthy. So in a way, we’re mentally equipped to deal with all this time in isolation. We could probably even give you some tips.

But époque defining events such as the Coronavirus outbreak provide unexpected challenges to authors too. Because beyond the question of how to actually concentrate on writing when the world outside is going into meltdown – how to think about fictional characters when you’re worried about flesh and blood loved ones – the great question is, do you write the virus into your plot or leave it out?

I, for example, am currently 2/3 of the way through writing a novel in which the bulk of the action takes place in the year 2020. But 2020 suddenly isn’t looking much like any other year. So is it really possible to write a novel that doesn’t reference being stuck indoors during a Coronavirus outbreak?

Some novelists write outside time, refusing to mention politics or world events. It’s fiction, they say, and so is the year that it takes place in. Their readers appreciate being able to escape to a place which has none of the real-world problems they see on the news every day. And for authors such as these, as long as their loved ones aren’t affected, the only effects of the epidemic may be to give them more uninterrupted time to write.

But for authors who write novels that are clearly situated in “here and now,” for authors who feel that this is an essential part of what makes fiction feel “real” the challenge can be quite daunting.

Moving my plot backwards would means having to write a general election and Brexit into the action. Moving it forwards would mean writing Coronavirus into everyone’s past, and let’s face it, we have no idea how that’s going to pan out yet. Are all of their grand parents now dead or did Boris Johnson’s government suddenly change tack? So what to do? It’s a real dilemma that’s throwing a spanner in the middle of a 6 month work project that I’m supposed to finish within the next two months.

For now, I think I’m going to shift the entire plot forward a few months and write the damned virus in. To do this, I’m going to have to stick two characters who, for plot purposes, need to get together, into self-imposed isolation. Their love is going to have to be a love born of being locked up together! And as I continue to write those final chapters, I’ll be watching the news closely to find out how long their kids need to stay home from school (and thus be far more heavily written in) and whether they need to see a constant stream of hursts rolling past the window or troops in the streets.

My characters are all biting their nails as they wait to see what happens… So as we worry about our very real loved ones, spare a thought too for my fictional characters whose destinies are just as uncertain as our own.

My latest novel The Road to Zoe was published on the 12th of March, 2020.

And here comes… Zoe!

Hi Everyone.

I know it’s been a shamefully long time since I last wrote to you all, but it’s because I’ve been busy. And the result of all that business is… Zoe!

So, I’m thrilled to announce the publication of my latest baby, a road trip novel called The Road to Zoe, out this Tuesday, the 10th of March 2020.

I do hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Don’t hesitate to drop me a line and let me know. I love hearing from readers.

Love to all. Nick xxx

zoeThe Road to Zoe

She ran away from the truth,
but she can’t run forever.

Seven years after his sister vanished without a trace, Jude is on the road, determined not to return home until he has found her. He wants to reunite his broken family, but more than this he wants to know why Zoe left—what happened when they were kids, on that terrible day when everything fell apart.

They’d been enjoying the funfair—grasping a rare moment of happiness following their parents’ divorce—when after a ride together, Zoe had stopped speaking to her mother’s new partner. Though Mandy believed he was the man she’d waited all her life for, her love for her daughter trumped even that, and soon suspicions of an unthinkable betrayal shattered the family.

So finding Zoe would be just the start. If Jude can find her, then what happens next will depend on the story she’s been carrying with her all these years. Because when families are destroyed by dark secrets, can the wounds ever truly heal?

Pre-order here, at the special low introductory price (£1.99 in the UK).

For Kindle
->Amazon UK   ->Amazon USA  ->Amazon Australia

In Paperback
->Amazon UK   ->Amazon USA   ->Amazon Australia

In Audiobook
->Amazon UK   ->Amazon USA   ->Amazon Australia

Fly Starlight, Fly.

DSC01812.JPGTitus was born with character. He had a LOT of character. And like anyone with a lot of character, he wasn’t an “easy” cat to like. He’d had a traumatic childhood. He’d lost his mother too soon… If you put in a bit of effort you could understand why he was the way he was.
But like a lot of “difficult” characters, once you knew him you loved him, not for anything he pretended to be, because Titus never pretended, but for what he was, a difficult, often grumpy, feisty, but incredibly faithful friend. So, yes, not having a vast vocabulary to communicate with, Titus bit and bit often. It’s why we nicknamed him Typhus. But Titus/Typhus rarely bit hard, and never enough to injure anyone. It was just the only way he had of saying “no”.
He was the most present cat I’ve ever known. At any moment of the day, whether you were eating breakfast, watching TV or going to bed, you could look up and Titus would be there.
The other cats all come and go, depending on what’s going on outside, on what’s out there to kill. But Typhus didn’t care. If you were there he’d sit next to you. He’d prefer you didn’t touch him, but he wanted to be with you. All the time. It’s how he showed his love.
A friend who claims to speak telepathically to cats informed us he wanted to be called Starlight, and so we tried it for a while, just in case it would improve his character. It didn’t, but we still called him Starlight from time to time. I had a vague feeling that he did actually like it.
And now he’s gone. And the sofa’s empty because the other cats are all outside killing things. So we miss him. And we’re sad. And Starlight is wherever cats go when they leave those that love them behind. Perhaps they get reincarnated as other cats. Or perhaps they go into a big pool of soul that gets reused in some other living form. I don’t know. I’m just convinced that all that complexity, and character, and soul, and love, doesn’t just vanish. Perhaps it turns into light beams and goes racing through the stars. It would be a fitting end for a cat called Starlight.
Goodbye Titus/Typhus/Starlight. We miss you already. RIP.

Out now! You Then, Me Now

 

YTMN-m

Exciting news for UK and Aussie readers!

Though officially out on 1st May, my new novel, You Then, Me Now is available NOW for UK and Australian readers as part of Kindle first reads.
All you have to do is sign up for the First Reads newsletter from Amazon once a month (free), and you can start reading You Then, Me Now today for only 99p (or FREE is you’re an Amazon Prime member).
I think it’s a good ‘un so I do hope you like it!
Can’t wait to hear what you think.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/You-Then-Now-Nick-Alexander-ebook/dp/B07HF4384W/

Just a small, white car

Screenshot 2019-01-10 at 09.07.35.png

 

It was just a car. A small, white, hatchback car.
I’d been struggling for a few years, borrowing money left right and centre (but mainly from a very special French friend who believed in me even though she couldn’t read what I was writing).
I’d given up living in my own flat so that I could rent it, and moved full time to a mountain cabin (even though it was -15 in winter and I was regularly snowed in.) But I still couldn’t make ends meet, so I was seriously considering selling my flat. That, at least, would provide a few years breathing space so that I could carry on writing. But what then?
And my car, which was oh-so-essential up the Alps, was this awful, unreliable Renault 19 with brakes that failed more often than they worked and tyres that wore down on one-side-only in weeks rather than months. That Renault, how to fix it, how to come up with the money to get it towed, how to get to the food shop which was 30 miles away when it wouldn’t start… was a constant source of real anguish.
And then Amazon Kindle publishing happened, so I self-published The Case of The Missing Boyfriend and within 6 months, that one book had paid off most of my debts. I couldn’t believe it.
By the beginning of 2012 (pictured) I had enough money to go and buy a brand new car, my first ever, cash.
That enough of you out there liked my writing for me to buy something as vast, tangible, and previously unimaginable as a brand new car was a huge milestone for me, and I don’t mind owning up to the fact that I had to pull over and mop up a few tears once I’d driven it off the garage forecourt.
It was just a car, but it was also, somehow, physical proof that the bad years were over, and my new career (something a couple of my friends had been telling me to abandon) was really happening.
And it’s all thanks to you.

The Christmas Tree Ritual

When I was a child, we used to have the same Christmas tree buying ritual almost every year.
My father would drive us out into the country to buy a tree. It always seemed like quite a long drive but it probably wasn’t that far.
Before we left, my mother would say, “Don’t get too big a tree, Chris. Not like last year.”
And my father would say, “No dear. Nothing too big.”
When we got to the tree-sale, he’d select a tree, starting with a

New Yorkers Shop On The Street For Christmas Trees

tiny one, and say, “this one?” and we’d say, “No! Bigger!” and he’d select another one, and say “This one?” and we’d say, “No! Bigger!” and round and round we’d go.
By the time we got home with the tree on the roof rack of our VW Variant, the chosen tree rarely fitted in the room, and the top had to be bent or sometimes even cut off. Mum would complain. Dad would say something like, “The small one’s didn’t look good, did they?” and he’d give us a wink.
I can never buy a small Christmas tree. And I can never buy a big Christmas tree without thinking about my dad.
You left us too soon, Dad. You really did.