Interview Question: How Did You Spend Lockdown ’20?

Unemployment is inevitably going to be an issue for many people once this craziness comes to an end. So maybe I should be blogging about (and selling) my skills as a CV writer rather than my lack of skill as a novelist?

If I wanted to write for money, maybe that would be the way to go. Instead, I’m writing for my own amusement and hopefully your entertainment.

That said, I’ve been thinking a lot about my next interview and anticipating this question: How did you spend lockdown ’20? (hope for the best, plan for the worst – there could be a lockdown ’21).

Photo by Gustavo Fring on

Even if it suddenly becomes taboo and email-to-HR-worthy, to ask this in the work setting, it will definitely come up at parties (muffled by a mask no doubt, if these uncomfortable social gatherings resume at all).

Here are some of my thoughts on what I would like to be able to say:

I practised Wim Hof breathing, cold showers and meditation every day – if you know nothing about Wim Hof, treat yourself to Scott Carney’s “What Doesn’t Kill You” or watch some of his YouTube interviews – he is nuts! But in the best possible way. This crazy Dutchman’s app is well worth checking out but only if you want to, in his words, FEEL STRONG M***** F*****S!

This has totally taken over what used to be my Headspace time. I just prefer the way I think and feel afterwards – and I feel like I’ve got someone else’s clothes on if I don’t start my day with these breathing exercises. I’ve got my breath hold up to over 3 minutes and after 3 rounds of this, it’s a natural high that’s also meant to bring a myriad of health and fitness benefits.

I would happily skip the cold shower – but after the first 30 seconds, the next minute is not so bad. I’m trying to use what little eating I do at the moment as an opportunity for mindfulness practice – even if I’m not logging on to Headspace. Waiting in the queue outside the supermarket is another good opportunity for this, as well as waiting for my son to finish a sentence!

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on

I started a blog – started it, did a “10 blog posts in 10 days” challenge and published a blog post each week thereafter, reached 100 followers and 500 read/visits by September 2020. That alone would be a massive achievement, as long as the time invested doesn’t prevent me from doing anything else!

I wrote a novel – using the Snowflake method, tackling it little by little, step by step, getting it edited, having a cover designed, self-publishing. Developing the habits and confidence to ensure that I complete a second novel during NANOWRIMO 2020 in November. This is a gold standard, long overdue bucket list item that I need to tick off! Then I’m off to find a dolphin.

Photo by bongkarn thanyakij on

I home-schooled my children – I really can’t claim to have done this one, any more than Boris can claim to have led us through this pandemic. The similarities are astonishing, in that I also get a daily briefing and step in only when really needed e.g. Year 5 maths – but then need to go off by myself to recover for quite a long time afterwards.

I read, cuddled and played with my children – like the cold shower, I sometimes have to work myself up to this – I find it hard graft. My inner voice is whining, “But those rules make no sense? But that’s boring – pointless – a lot of effort.” Then I remember how much they laughed the last time, and that for them, little and often works just fine. Leaving them wanting more is inevitable, by leaving them lacking is not OK. Whether its making Tik Tok videos, playing Roblox or getting into the arctic paddling pool – it makes their day. It’s also evidence that I’m not the dad who spends all of his time in the loft writing/working – as I’m sure I’ll be labelled come their teens!

For now, I realise how lucky I am – they’re the perfect age for this situation, if there is such a thing – and they want my attention? They won’t always. They’re already old enough to occupy themselves, and soon – lockdowns permitting – they will want to be out with their friends. I don’t want any regrets on this front…family time is precious anyway, lockdown or not, so this bonus round is an AMAZING GIFT!

I made a 2019-2020 family photo album – I have a lot of time on my hands right now, and every year I aim to have the family album ready for September (but this inevitably becomes October or later). This will be our 12th family photo album and although it probably won’t feature a summer holiday, there will be some great memories inside. It’s so easy to let the days just blur into one, and have no distinguishing features – I mean, what’s the point in a weekend now? So I’m aiming to take at least one photo each day to remember the positives.

I worked from home using email and Zoom – I’ll look back fondly on the days of zero commuting and comfortably providing a service to others. So many traffic jams and painful face-to-face interactions avoided. No masks required. Money saved on fuel. So much time saved. Many people are struggling mentally and emotionally right now due to the lockdown, but I’ll be booking my counselling sessions for when I have to go back!

I built a strong aerobic base – using the Maffetone heart-rate training method (180 bpm – age) and my daily outdoor exercise allowance, I am trying to run faster and further whilst keeping my heart-rate lower than 141 bpm (beats per minute). This is supposedly going to make me a “fat-burning beast”! Unfortunately so many factors can affect your MAF progress e.g. temperature, sleep quality/quantity, alcohol consumption. I don’t have much control over the first two, but ours is currently an alcohol-free home (after I twice adjusted my definition of “alcoholic”). My next drink will be once lockdown is over, and it will be anywhere BUT a Wetherspoons pub!

I shed body fat and finally got a six pack – I’m trying intermittent fasting at the moment, which for me entails not eating before midday and stopping eating at 18:00. That means my stomach doesn’t feel full when I wake up and do my Wim Hof breathing, and my morning cardio is in a fasted state. I drink water and black coffee to get me through any hunger pains felt during the first 7.5 hours of the day.

I grew a beard – tri-colour and patchy though it may be, I love rocking this apocalypse-is-here-so-no-point-shaving look. The grey makes me feel wise, even though it’s probably more the result of “worry” than “wisdom”.

I completed several online courses – I don’t want my facial hair to be the only thing that grows throughout this period. I want to add to my CV and improve my chances of employment post-Covid-19! Maybe even change fields completely? This pause will bring a flood of career changers…so I won’t be on my own. It will give me something else to blog about once the novel is published and flying off the (Kindle equivalent of) shelves?

So there are my initial thoughts on the matter and hopefully, my answers if I’m ever asked. How will you answer? Comments please X

Thank you!

Blog post 4 of 10 – done! Tick! Like it, comment, share it…or not…your call. SUBSCRIBE though, pretty please!!!

Step 4 (Snowflake method, not AA)

Step 4: Write a Short Synopsis

I started this blog and the novel whose progress (or lack thereof) it is tracking, on Saturday 18th April, and I have been a bit preoccupied with the blogging part since completing the first 3 steps of the Snowflake Method.

I foolishly accepted a “10 blog posts in 10 days” challenge, forgetting that the blog is not supposed to be my priority. Instead this is just a way of me to gain momentum and trick myself into writing some more of the novel, once my fingers and brain have warmed up. Like going for a walk, in your running gear or “out” in your “out, out” gear.

So today I set “out” to take what I had previously written for Step 2, and expand on it until I had written a one page summary of my novel.

One page. How hard can it be? Copy and paste Step 2 and fluff it up a bit. Or so I thought.

After a delayed start to my writing day (woke up at 04:30 am, did my Wim Hof breathing, watched YouTube videos instead of going out for my morning run (DOH!), queued outside supermarket (thanks Covid-19), did some food shopping, made a green smoothie for the rest of the family, went out for the postponed run, did some push ups, etc, made coffee, had a cold shower) it was 11:00 am before I actually sat down at my desk. Better late than never!

I have to start on the hour, or the half-past. “Oh-five?” No. “Ten Fifty-Nine?” Nope. Not happening. So I started at 11 on the dot and I had just started to get warmed up when, I s**t you not, my phone rang at 11:29. I ignored it (work)…they didn’t ring back. I tried to convince myself that it couldn’t have been important if they didn’t try again. But then I couldn’t focus, because I had a vision of a career-ending email sitting in my inbox, ending with the line, “I did try to call and tell you but…”. So I logged in and checked my work inbox.

Does a tap left running freak you out? Have you ever thought about Niagra Falls? It’s still running. Right now. All that water. Night, day, rain, shine, summer, winter – even when it freezes, it’s still flowing underneath – except that one time. Well, that’s my work inbox. Ping! Ping! Ping! As I’m checking for the “tried to call you” email, I’m greeted by 20 other emails, so I start to read them and then PING! 21! PING! 22!

Thankfully none of them were the career-ender I feared, but several time consuming tasks needed to be completed so that was another 90 minutes gone.

Then it was lunch time. I promised the kids yesterday that I would go in the FREEZING COLD paddling pool with them after my omelette, as by the time I was ready to do so the day before, they were off on their screens. My son decided that the best game to play would be, “who can stay in the FREEZING COLD paddling pool the longest.” Did I mention that it was FREEZING! So half an hour later, we were still in there – numb, blue, shivering and covered in goosebumps – but none of us was planning on giving in.

Just before hypothermia set in, my wife appeared holding a parcel that had just been delivered, automatically winning my son the game as I stepped out of the pool, excited to open it. It turned out to be a cycling jersey I had won by entering a competition to suggest a title for a fellow blogger’s ( latest post! It was a lovely top…and I felt about as worthy of wearing it as I do my wet suit! Triathlon blog posts to come, but for now lets just say I can confidently say (1) I am an OK runner (2) I don’t need inflatable arm bands and (3) I don’t need bicycle stabilisers. But having the right gear definitely gives me the urge to put in a bit more effort!

Anyway, I drifted from writing Step 4 to blogging, then I end up on the NANOWRIMO Facebook group. Do you read the rules/small print when you sign up for these things? Me neither. They should make a video instead. I’d watch that. Maybe. So I’d previously had a comment removed because it was pure, shameless self-promotion. Fair enough. My bad. But then apparently on the next post, when I typed my pseudonym on my phone and it didn’t show up blue (hyperlinked?), it DID once it appeared on the group page’s wall, triggering chaos and panic and the immediate removal of said post. Followed by a stern email from the administrator.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

I was then being watched, and every comment I made was closely scrutinised. I was accused of scaring another user – LOL – the comment said “don’t use the b word” as in blog, it wasn’t a d*** pic. I’m sure I was one comment away from admin’s next warning using the word “triggered”, which would have made my day. It was like that seen from Anger Management, where everything Adam Sandler says or does is being misinterpreted as him being the aggressor. I literally looked around to see if there was a camera on me and I was being pranked. So after some genuine engagement with other users (there are some really supportive and genuinely talented writers doing NANOWRIMO – myself and the Twilight crew exempted), and me being no closer towards finishing Step 4, I stepped away.

My wife rolled her eyes at me and asked if I’d been banned yet (add them to the UK Songwriter’s Guild and McDonalds Lakeside). I told her “no” and said that I’d try harder tomorrow.

Facebook – logged off. Instagram – logged off. WordPress – keep it open on the draft of the next blog, but stop checking your bloody STATS! A watched pot…remember?

And with those actions taken, Step 4 finally took shape. Unfortunately – or maybe not – there are some serious issues with my story that need sorting out. But I guess that’s the whole point of doing it in stages like this – to realise that very thing before I waste hours and hours.

Tomorrow I will give Step 4 another go, and put my creative hat on to solve all of those plot issues. With any luck, the day will go a bit smoother. But I doubt it.


This is the 3rd blog in my “10 blogs in 10 days” challenge, Thank you so much for reading, liking, commenting and sharing. Please subscribe if you haven’t done so already, and I hope to entertain you some more tomorrow.

Lockdown and Snowflakes

WARNING: For those of you looking forward to a diatribe about the lack of mental and emotional resilience among the younger portion of society, spoiler alert: you will be disappointed. If you are so upset that you want to complain, my reply in advance is as follows:

“Man up, you melt!”

How Time Flies

The first four weeks of lockdown were, for the most part, an absolute dream! I’ve always valued time more than money, and so this was my equivalent of a lottery jackpot.

There were two dark clouds, that passed quicker for me than for those being directly rained on, but after that it was more or less back to “walking on sunshine” playing in my head at various points of the day.

As an introverted, agoraphobic, who fears flying and couldn’t tell you the last televised sporting event I’d seen, those lab boys in Wuhan had done me a massive solid. Sorry – I’m sure there were girls working there too. (Calm down! If you’d read Stephen King’s “The Stand”, your mind would’ve gone there as well).

Seriously though, although I don’t detest my day job, when I was told that for the foreseeable, I wouldn’t have to (a) commute an hour each way (minimum) five or six days a week (b) spend at least five hours a week in meetings, or (c) do many of the meaningless admin tasks that take up a large chunk of an otherwise productive day, I won’t lie to you – I cannot say that I was unhappy.

For two more reasons, I was in fact ecstatic.

Firstly, for years I have complained, felt guilty, and threatened to change career because of the lack of family time it affords me (ignoring holidays). But right now, for the time-being, I am here for breakfast, lunch and dinner with my wife and two kids. I get to help my wife with homeschooling them (she does the lioness’s share – but she’ll tell you, I do come in handy with maths and some tricky spellings) and I get to play with them, A LOT. It’s been great!

Secondly, for an even greater number of years I have talked about writing a novel – and yet…nada. Not even a novella. Not even a regular blog post. Replying to work emails makes up the bulk of my daily word count.

Each October, just before the Halloween festivities that are now a firmly established family tradition, I naively sign up for NANOWRIMO (NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth). I order my overpriced (due to shipping from the US) t-shirt or mug, I start with good intentions, but early each November, life just gets in the way. I have even attended a few local NANOWRIMO events. These have been motivating, but they still haven’t enabled me to get anywhere near the required 50.000 words for the month.

So now, with all this time on my hands and permission to stay at home and sit at my desk as much as I like, I might have found a way to slay that dragon!

Obviously whatever I write during lockdown won’t contribute towards November 2020’s word count – but just getting into a routine, and practising the method below will put me in a better position to finally be a NANOWRIMO winner and maybe even a self-published author.

The Snowflake Method

Created by Randy Ingermanson (physicist and award winning author), I’ve known about the Snowflake Method of novel writing for some time. However, as is my way, I’ve half-heartedly attempted to follow the method, only to give up before seeing the 10 steps through to completion.

I can waste time going through the various excuses I’ve used for this, but I’ve wasted so much time already, it feels wrong to do so. Instead, the first post in this series will take you through the initial steps in the process, and how I got on with them.

I won’t start worrying about anything like a “daily word count”, until I reach Step 10: Write and Edit Your Story.

So the start date (or stopwatch?) for this blog and the novel, was set at 09:00 am on Saturday 18th April 2020. This is me, publicly committing to finishing a first draft by 10th September 2020 (144 days away). Gulp! Wish me luck!

Step 1: Write Your Storyline

Simple enough. In 25 words or less, write a single sentence summary of your story. I managed to nail the gist of mine in 13 words, which I will share nearer to the publication date.

Step 2: Write Your Three-Act Structure

Write a one-paragraph summary (Randy suggests 5 sentences) of your story, which details the three acts – or the beginning, the middle and the end. Again, I just needed to skim the surface here and not know all of the details, but have a general idea of my story’s starting point and where I want it to end.

This is where the “planner” vs “pantser” (as in, fly by the seat of pants…make it up as you go along”) debate rears up in my head. On one hand, I want the story to be free, organic, go wherever it’s going to go. But that’s a recipe for wasting hours, maybe even weeks, writing yourself into a corner and having wasted that time. It’s the equivalent of going out for a long run in a new place without google maps or any other way of finding your way home – nightmare!

I really enjoy a lot of Stephen King’s books and he is probably the most famous pantser. It’s just that it sometimes feels like he went where the urge took him, and there were better options available, had he planned it – especially his endings. Not always, but more than once.

So I’ve settled on having my rough plan, but I’m open to adjustments.

Step 3: Define Your Characters

I will not be using roman a clef, where you take people from real life and disguise them in fiction. So my friends and family have nothing to worry about! My characters are generated by me taking a real person I know very little about, letting my imagination fill in the blanks to some personal questions, and then asking what their siblings or friends are like. My characters will be the brother, sister or friend that I’ve created, so they’re even further removed from reality. I cheat, using my experience and background in psychology as a starting point, but I don’t shy away from doing the character-creating work.

The Snowflake Method asks you to write the following:

  • Name
  • Ambition (product goal or end goal)
  • Story goal (process goal)
  • Conflict (obstacle to goal)
  • Epiphany (how the character develops or changes throughout)
  • One-sentence summary (storyline if they were the main character)
  • One-paragraph summary (beginning, middle and end, if they were the main character)

I found it preferable to put this all on a spreadsheet, that way it is easier to add to it or edit as I go along.

In addition, I like to be able to see my characters, so I use google image to find photos of random people that look similar to who would play my characters in the film version (let’s not get ahead of myself…novel first, screenplay later. Netflix are screaming for good ideas).

So these characters have a name, a face, and even the beginnings of an inner life – suggested by their outer goals, actions and obstacles. Like work colleagues, they are going to become a part of my life for the next few months at least. The more invested I am, the more frequently we interact, the more real and meaningful they will become. With any luck, this will translate to the page and eventually, the reader’s mind.

I have started with 7 main characters, but this is already starting to grow out of necessity. Lots of characters can be confusing for the reader, so it’s simplified as they each belong to one of three groups – there are a couple of floaters, who change as necessary. Anyway, I don’t want to talk to much about the story itself, just the process.

The Beginning’s Conclusion

So, the first three steps are complete. I feel good about that as I did them all in one sitting, but not so good that I want to celebrate, as I have been further than this before and still failed to finish.

The next few steps may be more time consuming, and mentally challenging, so rather than put off writing completely I will alternate between writing this blog about “why I can’t write” and actually writing the bloody thing! I know, I know…genius!!! Thanks, yes I did think of that myself.

It’s currently 11:16 on a beautiful, sunny, Sunday morning. I slept in and skipped my run, but did do my Wim Hof breathing and had a 60 second cold shower. I’ve had no breakfast yet and only one coffee so far, so with my coffee deadline being midday, that is my next port of call. After that, play with the kids, read, watch a film, stuff my face, and maybe…just maybe…write something?

Until next Sunday, Constant Reader, stay safe and well.