How to pass the time when self-isolating during coronavirus

I’ve worked from home as a full-time crime writer for a year now. It’s been amazing because I’ve only had one bug in that time (one cold, compared to about five colds and one flu per year before that) and a massive reduction in migraines. Plus, I’ve written three novels and various short stories and articles in that time, making it my most productive year yet, career-wise.

But there can be downsides to working from home. You’re socially isolated and it can negatively affect your mental health some days, especially if it’s new to you.

If you’ve been sent home from work to avoid the spread of coronavirus, or you’re choosing to self-isolate (hopefully, as a precaution and you’re not ill) and don’t know what to do with yourself, you might find at least one tip here that appeals to you. I don’t have children (well, 3 cats!) so I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it is to entertain kids if your whole family is self-isolating, but I’m sure there are some great tips online specifically for children.

  • You’ll probably feel like having at least one or two sweatpants days where you just lounge on the sofa or stay in bed all day long, eating all the bad stuff from your cupboards and ignoring the hairbrush. Do it! How often do we get a chance to do this on a weekday? Never! It’s not wasting time, it’s downtime and everyone needs more of that. Give in to eating whatever you want and don’t feel guilty for taking an afternoon nap. Just don’t do this every day of your self-isolation as it will quickly turn bad. One day off is fine, but after that, get productive or your mental health will decline.
  • Why not plant some seeds? In my experience you’ll look forward to checking every morning whether they’ve grown yet. If you can’t get out to buy seeds, use something you already have – sweet peppers, apples, citrus, tomato, an old spud going moldy in the cupboard – just plant something and watch it grow! There are plenty of YouTube videos showing you how to plant anything, but I’ve found trial and error is best. I just put a seed in some compost, water it and put it in a sunny spot. That works 96% of the time. (Cactus seeds refuse to grow in my house!) Another benefit of planting seeds is that we might need home-grown produce if food becomes limited (worst case scenario), so get a head-start now.
  • If you have a garden or balcony, make sure you get outside regularly. The benefits of listening to the birds, watching bees buzz around the flowers and feeling the sun on your face is immediately uplifting. Plan to fill those gaps in your borders by listing what you want to buy when you’re able to get out and about again. Tidy up the pots that have been thrown around the garden in the recent storms. It will help you feel productive which, in my experience, keeps spirits lifted.
  • If you’re well enough, go for a walk every day, even if it’s just around the block. Obviously be careful if you do have coronavirus, you don’t want to accidentally spread it to any at-risk people, but getting outside really breaks up the day, even if just for fifteen minutes. It’s good for your body too as too much sitting will very quickly ruin your overall fitness. Take it from someone who knows!
  • Speaking of exercise; don’t forget YouTube has thousands of free workout videos including aerobics, yoga, indoor walking etc. Try searching for whatever you’re interested in and I guarantee there’s a video for it!
  • Use social media to chat with people who share your interests. There are bound to be lots of other people in the same situation and looking to pass the time, and social media can make you laugh (well some sites are better than others; Twitter is my fave.). You might even end up making new friends (but stay safe online – see my previous blog post!).
  • TV is important because it feels like you’re with people. Watching drama-filled reality shows can fill the void if you’re missing office gossip. I recommend any of the Real Housewives franchises for their drama and gossip and the “OMG, did they really just do that?” moments!
  • Use the time you’re indoors to catch up on the hobbies you’ve been neglecting for years. Dust off your Warhammer 40k miniatures/knitting needles/drum set and lose time!
  • Read those books that have been piled next to your bedside table for years! Many people will want to read uplifting stories right about now but I’m the opposite, I’ve always loved crime, horror and non-fiction so if that’s what helps me escape the news, then that’s what I’ll read. E-readers will certainly be useful during this pandemic!
  • Those DIY jobs you’ve been avoiding? Start small and build up to getting them done. Or just have a spring clean and get rid of all the clutter you’ve been meaning to give away or sell! This is probably a really good time to list stuff on auction sites and make some money. Assuming the post offices stay open of course.
  • If you’re meant to be actually working from home during this time, don’t put it off. Find somewhere comfortable to work from in your house (not your bedroom as this will ruin your sleep routine eventually) and make sure you go there during your normal work hours. Okay, maybe knock off at least an hour either side because let’s face it, these are unprecedented times and we’re not going to work as hard as we would if we were actually at work! Keep your workday routine if you can because you’ll find it easier to mentally switch off when you do stop working. Move to a different room for downtime. That’s why working from the living room or bedroom isn’t always a great idea; it might be comfortable but you’ll start associating it with work. I work from a spare room we’ve converted into a home office, but that’s because my homeworking is long-term.
  • Don’t spend all your downtime watching the news. Sure, get updates once or twice a day because coronavirus is obviously a fast-moving story (and bug) but it’s depressing and actually quite scary for a lot of people, and when you’re stuck at home you need to focus on staying busy and positive as much as you can.
  • Stay in contact with anyone in your family or friend-circle, or neighbours, who live(s) alone. They will be the people who are most scared because they’ll be worrying about contracting the virus and having no way of getting their normal medicine and groceries. Not everyone uses online shopping and even that might be hit eventually. Call/message them regularly or, with elderly neighbours, try to pop by and chat through the closed front-door a few times a week, if they’re open to that. Remember, a lot of people who suffer with long-term chronic illnesses are isolated all the time and they’ll have better tips than me on how to cope.

Ultimately, anything that passes the time will help you get through self-isolation and you have to keep both your mind and your body active because mental health is absolutely linked to physical health. Oh, and having pets like Joey (pictured above) helps!

If you have any other tips, leave a comment!

Wendy. x

Coroner’s assistant to crime writer

It’s not surprising that I became a crime writer. After all, crime has always played a part in my work life. I’ve worked as a university adviser for prisoners who were seeking rehabilitation through education and I’ve worked in a coroner’s office, where we sought justice for those who may have passed away through medical negligence or even murder. So perhaps I feel compelled to write about crime in order to seek justice for those unable to seek it for themselves. Those who have been murdered, or those with no family to care about them.

Who Cares If They Die is the first book in my Dean Matheson crime series and it explores exactly that: what happens when women who are living on the margins of society are killed in suspicious circumstances. Does anyone care if a drug addict overdoses? What about if a prisoner commits suicide? The killer in this book hopes not. But these women are still someone’s mother, daughter, sister, despite what they’ve done.  Don’t they deserve as much justice as anyone else? Officer Dean Matheson thinks so and he makes it his business to find out the truth, because he’s unwilling to accept their deaths were suicides.

In the sequel – Where the Snow Bleeds – Dean is called in to investigate a police department that is happy to write-off two missing teenage girls from a remote ski town in Colorado as runaways, when all the evidence clearly points to the opposite. With the popularity of true crime documentaries rising, we are becoming more aware of corruption in law enforcement and just how big a problem it is, how many wrongful convictions take place each year. This book explores how far people will go to turn a blind eye in order to protect their own interests.

I think we’d all like a Dean Matheson in our lives, someone who will dig a little deeper in order to seek justice for those who can’t seek it for themselves.

But it’s not all doom and gloom! Just as I have cats who keep me company while I write, Dean has his rescue dog, Rocky, helping him in his investigations. Rocky is a gentle rottweiler and wannabe police dog and he’s the character I get the most emails about! I often laugh at how crime fiction lovers (me included) can read about the most horrific crimes to humans but I’ve been told on no uncertain terms that I can never, ever, allow anything bad to happen to Rocky. Quite right too.

This is a short article I wrote for Female First to celebrate the release of the paperback version of Who Cares if They Die on 5th Nov 2019. It is now available in all good book shops (and on their websites) and in UK libraries as well as on all digital platforms as an ebook and audiobook. Book 3 in the series is out in Jan 2020.

Watch the one minute teaser trailer to see if you’re interested!

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October – the season for horror

October is one of my favourite months of the year because I grew up reading horror books and watching horror films and October is perfect for indulging in both. The nights are closing in and the heating is going on, which is perfect for shutting the world out and pretending you’re in your own (safe) horror story. In fact, the first short stories I ever tried writing were horror, although cheap imitations of Stephen King. I still have a couple and although they’re pretty bad, I can see where I was beginning to learn the rules of grammar and dialogue which helped me become published in the future.

The first short story I had published wasn’t quite horror but it was dark. It’s called Blue and it later turned into my first ever novel – The Girl Who Died. It’s about a teenage girl whose best friend dies. It starts with the main character – Hannah – laying next to her best friend’s body. We don’t know at that stage whether Hannah was involved in her death and why she died. Hannah also features in my latest release – Where the Snow Bleeds. Unfortunately, her life doesn’t get much better in that! So yes, my writing definitely has a dark side to it! It’s hard to avoid that when you’ve been the victim of horrific crime from a young age because your life takes on this darkness that it wouldn’t otherwise have.

Perhaps that’s why I’m drawn to darker subjects for my writing and reading choices, and to my favourite season of the year; autumn. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy lighter subjects and comedy, but light and fluffy just doesn’t interest me. Unless it’s a cat! That’s another reason to love October – Halloween and cats.

The photo above is of Teddy – my youngest cat – when he was a kitten. I don’t dress him up for Halloween (there’s no way he’d even let me) but his ginger colouring fits the pumpkin season perfectly!

So, October for me will be filled with writing my next novel, reading some favourite horror books and watching new and old horror films. One of which is Paranormal Activity 3. The PA films were great when they first came out, really different from other films in the genre. But they peaked at the third film – that camera on the oscillating fan was genius and creepy as hell! I watch it every year now. I’m not a fan of slasher horror and I can’t watch people being tortured, but I love paranormal and psychological horror. My next release (early 2020) – book 3 in the Dean Matheson crime thriller series – gets pretty dark and features some horror classics but I can’t really say any more than that yet!

After October we’ll all begin the countdown to my next favourite time of year – Christmas! (Sorry!)