With thanks to The Story Reading Ape for first publishing this post.
This was the question I asked myself all those months ago in March 2020, when the WHO declared Covid19 a pandemic. At first, I didn’t expect the resulting lockdowns and self-isolation would last very long or that there would be not just one wave, but three or four. However, since so many were experimenting with innovative virtual platforms, where we were already recording new episodes of our weekly radio show, Word on the Hills, it seemed a good moment to try to maintain connections and support within our writers’ group.,
We moved our monthly meetings to Zoom and set up critique groups in the following months. We discovered that people reacted differently to the strange, often frightening, conditions of 2020, and many were writing in response to them. Kim Aubrey and I decided to set up a blog on our Festivals’ site, festivalofthearts.ca, called A Journal in Times of Pandemic and Lockdown and were delighted to receive a great variety of poetry and non-fiction ranging from the philosophical to the humorous, travel and opinion pieces, memoir and nostalgia as well as extracts from novels which some of our authors were then working on. The blog became a useful vehicle for keeping in touch with our fellows.
As the year progressed it became clear that we were building a collection of pieces that could become the basis for an anthology. When the blog closed down at the end of February 2021, we started work on its transformation into an e-book. The blog pieces were short but many of them were illustrated with photographs of the world around us, reminding us that nature in our area was flourishing in the face of the pandemic, or pictures of the people or events being written about. We saw an opportunity to publish more photography and art work and solicited these from those of our members who have skills and experience in these fields. And to extend the range of writing represented by the blog items and include some longer pieces, we also asked for short stories from those who had been writing them during months of lockdown.
Though we originally saw the blog as just a record of a difficult and challenging year and still believe it has value as such, we found that it also encouraged innovation and experimentation among our writers as they tried different modes of expression, wrote about their feelings and experiences in alternative ways and, in spite of the limiting circumstances, continued to publish both short pieces and full-length books, finding new ways to market their work.
Our experiences have shown us that difficult times, which affect us both globally and locally, prompt innovation, creativity and even new opportunities to address long-standing societal problems and injustice. This anthology is published on behalf of The Northumberland Festival of the Arts 2022 an organization dedicated to celebrating the role of the arts in building strong and healthy communities.
Our vision is to bring together artists and communities in Northumberland and beyond to celebrate the meaning and value of art in our lives, the joy of creative practice, and the role of art in helping us to better understand both place and people.
Planning for the Northumberland Festival of the Arts, 2022, is underway. Follow our progress at festivalofthearts.ca.