With 10 books in less than 10 years to her name, East London author Holly Bourne is used to being busy. Best known for wildly readable feminist YA novels, and in more recent years her critically-acclaimed debut adult novel How Do You Like Me Now?, Holly’s career started as a news journalist, before she became an editor, relationship advisor, and general ‘agony aunt’ for a youth charity. It’s there she grew increasingly interested in helping young people with their relationships and mental health, which led to her award-winning ‘Spinster Club’ series. Alongside her writing, Holly is an ambassador for Women’s Aid, and in non-lockdown times travels the UK teaching young people about healthy relationships. BEAST magazine spoke to Holly about her ‘new normal’ right now, including how she’s writing when feeling uninspired, to what it’s like to publish a book in lockdown (her new novel Pretending is out now).
What does your lockdown life look like at the moment?
I’ve read a lot about how important it is to keep to a routine in lockdown, so I’ve been trying very hard. Fifty per cent of the time, I’m very ‘I cannot control the situation, but I can control how I respond to the situation’ – and the other fifty per cent, I’m crying while lying facedown on the carpet. But I’m letting myself sleep until 7:45, which is blissful. Then I feed my cat, and meditate for twenty minutes each morning. I’ve been a meditator for years and need it now more than ever. Then, I, like everyone, try to do a day’s work but have found my concentrate span is completely fractured. I do what I can. Go for my daily walk. Then cook dinner. After eating, I either have a zoom call with friends or watch something with my partner that we can agree on. I’m going to bed very early. I just want another day to have passed.
What have you found the most challenging about the lockdown?
Green space is so important to me and I found it incredibly hard when they closed Victoria Park. I find it quite stressful walking around it. I feel a bit like I’m playing a biohazard version of ‘Frogger’ – dodging all the joggers to cross the path to get onto the grass. I miss walking without concentrating. I haven’t been able to just amble along the canal and let my thoughts drift for so long.
How has your writing been affected by lockdown life?
It’s so strange having so much more time to write and yet feeling so uninspired. I’ve set myself a daily bare minimum, and rarely go over it. A psychologist friend explained to me that we are all in ‘fight or flight’ mode, and that shuts down the creative side of the brain. I felt very reassured when she told me that. I also had my novel, Pretending, published during lockdown and it’s been very strange not touring the country and meeting readers. I long for bookshops to re-open (safely).
Do you have a go-to lockdown meal at the moment?
This is going to sound so pathetic but…I’m getting into Huel. Before lockdown, I spent most of my disposable income on going out for food, and I’m not loving the constant preparing of food, cooking food, washing up food x 3 a day. Sometimes I just want to eat something I’ve not had to prepare. Huel has been good for the days when I really, honestly, cannot be bothered.
What have you been doing to relax during this time – have you found anything really effective?
I do meditate twice a day, and on some occasions, I’ve been able to forget the wider picture. My cat is also a source of relaxation. It’s very good for the soul to have a furry little creature padding about, who has no clue what’s going on.
Have you read any interesting books or articles, or watched any great films or TV series you’d recommend?
As an author, I try to support bricks and mortar bookshops, but have caved in lockdown and subscribed to Amazon Prime for two months so I can chomp through The Marvellous Ms Maisal. I adore it. As for books, the new Marian Keyes, Grown Ups, is a delightful and insightful examination of the modern family.
Have there been any silver linings for you during this period?
I think that is something I’ll only be able to answer in the future, when I’m looking back on this time. When we are all safe and together again.
Will you be making any changes to your life moving forward in a post-lockdown world?
I’ve been forced to learn some recipes which are really quite nice. Maybe I’ll cook more. After I’ve binged on twenty million Pret sandwiches.
Any words of wisdom or support for anyone particularly struggling right now?
One day at a time. Also, know that how you’re responding to this isn’t telling you anything important or profound or shameful about ‘who you are’. You are just surviving. We are all just surviving. This isn’t the time to analyse yourself. How you handle life in a global pandemic, locked away from all your support networks, is not an indication of how strong or resilient or mentally healthy you are. It’s a total once-in-a-hundred years situation that doesn’t resemble normal life. We are living in collective trauma simultaneously. This situation, and how you cope with it, doesn’t say anything about you.
How have you stayed engaged with your East London community during this time?
I set up a ‘lockdown library’ at the end of my drive – a box filled with books I’ve read, and it’s been a great way to spread a bit of joy. We have a road Whataspp group to ensure everyone has what they need. And, now our fish shop has re-opened, we’re having a fish ‘n’ chips Friday, picking up an order for our shielding elderly neighbour, and leaving it on his door. It has been lovely feeling close to everyone. That’s the one thing I don’t want to lose.
Do you have any favourite East London businesses doing great things that you’d like to shout about?
Hackney Essentials have been brilliant. They’ve set themselves up so quickly, and filling a much-needed demand in grocery basics (and some bougie treats). Yard Sale Pizza has also made me weep once or twice, with how good their pizzas are. Plus their incredible ice-cream sandwiches. And Barge East are home-delivering roast dinners on a Sunday. I ordered one on a sunny weekend, ate it outside, and could almost pretend it was like old times. Plus, hats off to the guys in the Londis in Victoria Park village, who have been amazing, hard-working, efficient and brave in keeping everyone fed. They’re a brilliant business. I always leave smiling, even in these crazy times.
Please share any exciting projects you’ve been working on during this time, as well as information on how readers can support you and your work right now.
As I said, my latest novel, Pretending, was published into the lockdown, so I much appreciate anyone buying it online. Hive is a great place to order books online, as well as supporting independent bookshops.
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