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Lockdown lives: I'm missing launch of my debut novel

Mum of five, journalist - and, now, novelist - Gillian Harvey finds a silver lining in confinement

May 28, 2020, has been highlighted in my calendar for more than a year. The day my long-awaited debut novel is finally released in the UK – along with the realisation of a lifelong dream.

We had planned to go on a two-week break to Blighty, launch the book in London and visit various relatives around this time. I’ve been penciling dates in my diary for months – planning the trip as precisely as possible.

But you know what they say about best-laid plans.

If someone had told me that I’d spend my publication date at home, trying to school my children in a language I’m not massively confident in, streaming my launch online and that I’d probably never get to see my novel on bookshop shelves, I’d have thought they were mad.

Yet, here we are.

It hasn’t escaped my notice either that releasing a humorous novel called Everything is Fine just at this moment couldn’t exactly be described as the best timing.

But I’m not complaining. Well, not really. For a start, my family and I went through a horrific week of coronavirus symptoms back in March – and I’m just grateful we all came out the other side. In the heart of a pandemic, our thoughts home in on what’s really important: friends, family, health. People. Not books – even long-awaited debut novels.

But as time’s gone on, like everyone, I’ve tried to get back to some semblance of normal life. And I’ve started, too, to be a little excited that – although things haven’t gone as planned – I’m set to achieve a lifelong dream in just under a week’s time.

I’ve learned to be resourceful. I’ve conquered my fear of webcams (why are they always so unflattering?) and taken part in Zoom meetings with my publisher (as I logged in I realised the kids had changed my name to 'poopoo'). I’ve taken to Twitter to do some self-conscious self-promotion. And I’m going to be streaming my book launch on Facebook Live (something I’m looking forward to and dreading in equal measure).

In life, nothing happens just as we expect it. I finished my first novel, aged 24, and when this one (my seventh attempt) finally hits the virtual shelves I’ll be 42. Everything is backward, but it doesn’t mean I can’t look forward to it.

Speaking to my agent on the phone last night, and finding out my contact at the publisher has been furloughed, I almost burst into tears (or laughter, I’m not quite sure).

But I woke this morning with new determination – life has always thrown obstacles in my course. And although it’s taken time, I’ve managed to leap over them, crawl under them or quietly sneak around the back. This is just another in a series of hurdles that will add interest to my biography one day (in that strange fantasy world where I’ve become interesting enough for anyone to want to read it, that is).

Let’s face it, too, lockdown in rural France is more than bearable. Yes, I have five children permanently at home, but we also have a big garden, and neighbours distant enough to think the noise the kids make is ‘charming’ rather than a racket. We’ve got enough bedrooms for everyone. And our internet speed is pretty good.

Things could be much, much worse.

Plus the sun is beginning to shine – both literally and metaphorically. As lockdown has eased in my little village, it’s been lovely to see people strolling along the high-street, having socially-distanced chats, buying their daily bread from the boulangerie.

Although seeing masked faces, or having to wait outside the pharmacy instead of browsing the face-creams while waiting to be served reminds me that coronavirus is still very much a part of our lives, things seem more positive than they did a couple of months ago.

As for me, despite describing myself recently to a friend as ‘drowning in children’ I’ve kept my kiddies at home for the minute rather than send them back to school. If nothing else, having to tutor them might help with my French grammar. And after the shock of a world pandemic, I feel more confident keeping them close (although give me another week and I might tell a different story).

But next week, on publication day, I’ll clink a glass of champers on my webcam and celebrate my book launch in the best way possible.

These are exceptional times, but there is still room for a little joy.

Everything is Fine by Gillian Harvey is out on 28 May with Orion

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