March 2020 Summary

Miserable. That’s it. The one word summary.

In fact, I should be grateful, because for me it hasn’t been too bad. I am not one of the brave and dedicated frontline key workers that I so much admire and whom we all depend on for what semblance of a normal life we still have: medical staff, pharmacists, supermarket workers, delivery drivers, public transport, utilities providers and of course teachers.

All I had to worry about, for the three weeks until the actual lockdown was my children still going to school (one of them on the train), and me bringing the disease back into the house, with my commute to London and having my office in a very public building which only closed down on the 20th of March. Of course, I also worry about my parents right at the other end of Europe, stuck in the capital city rather than in their house in the countryside (on the other hand, the hospitals are closer and better equipped in Bucharest), both with underlying health conditions and both approaching 80 very soon. Like any recently divorced parent with a very acrimonious financial settlement that is still hugely resented by the ex, I do worry about the possible practical consequences of me falling seriously ill. I may need to get in touch with a solicitor friend of mine and make a will.

Other than that: I’m used to food shortages, to curtailment of liberties, to being essentially under house arrest… it brings back memories of my childhood. Not fond ones, no: I have no ‘stiff upper lip and carry on’ nostalgia. But I know that we survived those times (some less gloriously than others), so I’m hopeful we can survive this. My boys are fortunately old enough to keep themselves occupied whether the school assigns a lot of work or not. We have adopted a new feline member of the family, sweet, elderly Barney, and we are busy trying to get our ‘only child’ Zoe to accept him.

However, my reading and writing have both dwindled considerably. Not only because I am extremely busy with work during the week and feel exhausted all the time. Not only because of the bouts of insomnia which continue to plague me (and probably everybody else at the moment). Almost certainly because I am scrolling helplessly and fruitlessly on my phone for far too long, but also because I find it difficult to concentrate on anything for longer than half an hour. Add to that the fact that WordPress has decided now is the right time to make changes to their writing and formatting of blog posts and a general sense of feeling ‘what’s the point’, and you can understand why I’ve not even updated my blog regularly.

If I look back at March, however, there have been some lovely moments which seem to be as far away now as if we were seeing them through the wrong end of a telescope. On the 1st of March, I was fortunate enough to see the kimono exhibition at the V&A and on the 11th of March the exhibition on the portrayal of pregnancy in art at the Foundling Museum. I also attended an immersive adaptation of The Time Machine on the beautiful premises of the London Library and reviewed the show just a week or so before it shut down. I’d probably have delayed going to see all of these if I hadn’t been jolted by others. Moral of the story: never put off things you enjoy doing because you ‘don’t have time right now’.

The London Book Fair was cancelled, but I had a meeting on the 11th with my fellow Corylus Books founders and we discussed plans for publishing and promoting books this year and the next. It is possibly the worst time to launch a new publishing house and bring out books in translation by authors that nobody has heard of (yet). We also have problems with the actual printing and distribution of physical copies. So, much as I hate having to link to Amazon, this is the only way to find the two books we already have out now. Perhaps later in the year we will be able to attend all those crime festivals and organise all those book launches that we had planned.

Zodiac by Anamaria Ionescu
Living Candles by Teodora Matei


Last but not least, I did read eleven books, and most of them have been of the lighter, more escapist variety, with quite a bit of armchair travelling.

Crime fiction:

Will Dean: Black River Tuva Moodyson is back in forlorn Gavrik in the north of Sweden at the height of Midsommar madness to try and find her missing friend. With a full cast of dodgy characters, including snakes, the author proves that the Swedish forests can be creepy regardless of the season.

Graeme Macrae Burnet: The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau Set in a sleepy provincial town on the Franco-Swiss border, not far from Strasbourg, this too is a creepy tale of loners, outsiders and personal obsessions.

David Young: Stasi 77 A series that I’ve really enjoyed, but somehow missed reading this particular book. The links to the end of the Second World War and hidden Nazis operating within the East German state were particularly harrowing (and historically accurate, although I wasn’t previously aware of it). Perhaps my favourite of the series thus far.

Murder in Midsummer  A collection of stories set in holiday locations (not always in summer, despite the title). Mostly famous authors, with lesser known stories. As always with such a collection, some of the stories are better than others, but overall a fun book to dip into.

Rebecca Bradley: A Deeper Song  DI Hannah Roberts is back with a bang and a sharp squeal of the brakes. Preoccupied by family problems, she nearly runs over a young man who darts out in front of her car. He is covered in someone else’s blood but cannot tell them anything, as the accident has provoked a temporary (?) amnesia. Soon Hannah herself is in danger and her team need to gather all of their wits and collaborative skills to find her.

Margot Kinberg: A Matter of Motive  A start of a new series by American author Margot Kinberg, featuring rookie murder investigator Patricia Stanley. A man is slumped over the steering wheel of his car, apparently the victim of a heart attack. Or was it? Both family and co-workers seem to have plenty of things to hide, although they keep emphasising what a nice guy Ron Clemons was.


Debbie Harry: Face It  She does not mince her words, does she? The beautiful, rebellious, cool as anything singer reveals as much as she damn well pleases in this memoir, including her vulnerabilities. Still an icon.

Malorie Blackman: Knife Edge  Second book in the Noughts and Crosses series, which I read to coincide with the TV adaptation. Such an interesting concept, although I did find the writing aimed at a younger audience than me.

Philip Pullman: The Book of Dust  I was smitten with the original trilogy but only got a chance to read this prequel now. An exciting story, even if we know the final outcome (that baby Lyra did end up safely at Jordan College). Above all, I like the rich descriptive, yet never dull style, which offers something for both adults and younger readers.

Tiffany Tsao: The Majesties  The story of a rich Indonesian family of Chinese descent, with a mass murder from the outset and a smidgen of science-fiction added into the mix. A wonderful book – about families, the lies we tell each other and tell ourselves, the differences between perceptions of the Chinese in the east and in the west… and about insects.

David Foenkinos: The Mystery of Henri Pick  An unexpectedly light and humorous offering by Foenkinos, satirizing the pretentiousness of the Parisian literary society. Could a pizza maker who never was seen reading a book truly have written an almost perfect novel? Erudite, charming, delightful.

Meanwhile, if you find my reading concentration anywhere, do let me know, won’t you? As you can see, I have a whole pile of books planned for April!




39 thoughts on “March 2020 Summary”

  1. It’s a very difficult time, isn’t it, Marina Sofia? We’re all having to find ways to deal with the inevitable anxiety, and you’re by no means the only one who’s finding it difficult to concentrate. I am glad you were able to welcome Barney into your lives; he is going to have a wonderful home with you. And thank you very much for your support of my writing and for the kind mention! That means a lot to me. Wishing you a peaceful April.

    1. It was the perfect reading for these anxious times, so thank you, Margot, for coming along at just the right time, although I do realise it means that your book is not getting the launch and the exposure it deserves.

  2. I think we’re all finding it hard to focus on anything. I’d also neglected my blog since Christmas, but have found posting on it this last week has kept my mind occupied, and achieve a kind of contact, electronically, with the outside world. I hope you and your family continue in good health – I know how worrying it is to have family in exposed positions. Our daughter works in the NHS, and has health problems of her own, so we worry all the time about her. Meanwhile we’re still able to go for walks from our house as we live on the outer edge of a small city with remote country lanes near our front door. Good luck with the publishing venture: rotten timing for you, unfortunately…

    1. Thank you for your good wishes and I wish you and your daughter the very, very best. Anxious times indeed. Like you, I live on the edge of my small town, so can jog across the fields, although I sometimes get stuck behind a very slow and smelly tractor. Time to count even the smallest of blessings.

  3. I know others are suffering from incessant brain chatter but I count myself very fortunate in having retained the ability of losing myself in a book. My anxiety is squatting in my lower back! I’ve spotted the lovely Barney on Twitter. I do hope he’ll offer a bit of distraction and consolation.

    1. I’m sure the chiropractors and osteopaths etc. will have plenty of work after all this is over, as so many people are probably not sitting in the right position for working from home all day. Yes, Barney is a delight, he has a very expressive little face, while our Zoe is more enigmatic (as befits a French lady).

  4. It’s kind of hard to concentrate on anything. Like you work keeps me very busy and it helps focusing on something else.
    As long as everyone is fine around me, I can spend a week in my house.

    I love that a month with shattered concentration means that you “only” read ELEVEN books while I struggle to keep up with my one-book-a-week usual pace.

    I have Serena on the shelf too, I might read it in April if I can. It’d be nice to discuss it with another reader who has fresh memorie of it. I expect it to be good.

    I have Dry Bones too but I’m not there in the series yet. My next one is The Dark Horse.

    Meanwhile, take care and “see” each other on Friday for our first Quais du Polar post.

    1. I always read things out of order, so no problem with Craig Johnson… although I’ve heard it’s not necessarily the strongest in the series. Am really enjoying the first two books for Quais du Polar – which both feature an enigmatic international assassin, surprisingly. But there the resemblance ends.
      As for the eleven books – I should say that the first 8 or 9 I read in the first 2 weeks of the month and I’ve struggled to read two in the last two weeks…

  5. I do hope you find your reading and writing mojo, as that is how I’m coping with this situation – in between not being able to get to sleep and suffering from existential angst. Hope you, your boys and your darling cats stay strong and safe. A gentle hug just using my elbows.

    1. Virtual hugs to you too! I’m starting to panic when I see people get tactile in old films, as if I want to cry out to them to keep a safe distance. Which is not at all the usual state of affairs for someone coming from a Latin culture, as you can imagine!

  6. I’m also finding it hard to concentrate, Marina Sofia. Like you, my work is very busy so that takes my limited energy. I’m hoping I’ll adjust soon and can find solace in books again. I hope you do too and your family stay well and that Barney settles in!

    1. I used to work 1-2 days per week from home on a regular basis, but it would usually be the days when I was working on designing a new course or presentation or preparing a report etc. Something where I was concentrating on one thing only, rather than having to multitask on a billion different tech platforms and be in constant meetings with colleagues and have to train panicked others at short notice… So yes, exhausting work and probably longer hours than ever before. I was going to cancel the annual leave I had booked for next week but I think it would do me (and the boys and the cats) good to just rest for a few days.

    1. It sounds quite different from his usual work, so should be fun. Do you think I’m being overambitious? It’s just that most of them are library books and I will be overdue with them if the library reopens, so I need to get to them quickly. Then again, who knows when the library will reopen, right?

        1. I think that’s why I went upstairs to the university library on my last day at work and borrowed everything I could find: I was in a panic I might run out of reading material (as if I don’t have hundreds of unread books at home! :-0 )

  7. That post was just what I needed this morning, as I drag myself out of bed to face another day of sheltering in place. I’m so sorry that these dreadful times are dredging up memories you’d rather not relive (and even sorrier that you had to live through them the first time) but your always-eloquent insights did remind me that this won’t go on forever, and meanwhile, there are plenty of good books still waiting to be read. Thank you for braving the WordPress “update” (yeah, ugh, their timing could be better) to bring a few excellent-sounding tales to my attention – will download the samples and see which ones hook me! Meanwhile, please know that your fine words will never go unread or unappreciated as long as they can wing their way over the net to my solitary writing cave.

    1. That is so kind and sweet of you to say, Jonelle, thank you so much for reading and commenting! I hope you keep up the good writing, i’ve been meaning to ask you if and when we might expect a new crime book set in Tokyo from you? Are you currently in Japan or in the US? (Don’t know which is worse, quite frankly, in terms of the virus.)

  8. It’s not easy, is it? I was exhausted before they closed the schools on 20th March, but I don’t think that working from home has made things any better. It’s a big sea change, and even though I didn’t go out a whole lot anyway, not being able to and everything being closed is pretty unsettling. I *am* reading, though mainly classic crime – reviewing is a little more difficult right now. Take care of yourself and your family and stay safe. x

    1. In some ways working from home is even more tiring. My older son’s school was very ambitious and overplanned last week, but they have reined it in this week, because they realise that it’s too tiring for both teachers and pupils to be in front of the screen all day long.

  9. Yes, finding it hard to concentrate properly on one thing at a time seems to be something a lot of us are suffering with. I am also impressed with the NHS workers and others on the frontline I am fortunate in being able to stay at home. Stay safe.

    1. I’ve been impressed at your ability to keep on reading and reviewing, Ali, so you’ve been doing really well. I think if I weren’t so tired from work, I would enjoy this chance to read much more.

  10. Oh my goodness—are you planning to read TWO Henry James novels in April?! (Sorry, I did read and very much enjoy the rest of the post, but that photo of your TBR pile at the end really snagged my eye!)

    1. Weeeeell, my eyes are bigger than my stomach, as they say… who knows how much of this I will get to read. Yes, I borrowed them from the library just before it closed and now I just feel I have to.

  11. Well, glad that you can to divert yourself somewhat from today’s crisis. I will write down several books you read, as some are right up my alley.
    And so glad Barney is adjusting, and Zoe is working on it. It’s tough for older cats.
    Hope you and your family are OK during this crisis. You all should get a lot of reading and perhaps binge-watching done. I could watch British TV mysteries on Amazon Prime for the rest of the year and am afraid of falling into that diversion.
    Best wishes to you and your family, including the cats.

    1. I know what you mean about ‘falling into that diversion’. In addition to reading, we’ve been watching some classic films, anime series and other TV series. I think older son and I might start watching The Wire together too, at least the first couple of series (it’s so long ago, I’ve forgotten most of it). I’d like to introduce him to West Wing, but need to find it somewhere for free first.

      1. Yes. I read it for the Auster Week. Not being a dog lover it hadn’t appealed to me in the past but I enjoyed it. I read James Herbert’s ‘Fluke’ a year or so ago and really enjoyed that as well. ‘Fluke’ was also from a dog’s perspective.

  12. What a month for everyone! I hope you stay safe, that you’ll find more time and focus for books! I have a question about Stasi 77 that looks excellent. I have read the first one in the series, would I miss much if I jump directly to #4?

    1. I know some people are very fussy about reading series in order, and yes, it’s quite a jump from first book to fourth, but I have never had any qualms about reading whatever is available. There are some references to earlier events, but mostly in terms of Karin’s personal life.

      1. I’m really not the fussy kind, but sometimes it does make the story confusing. I have put it on my TBR. Any kind of parcel delivery (except for food) is really limited now so who knows when?

  13. It’s a pity that now we all have that thing we always thought we wnated – more time at home to read – we all find we’re too anxious to make the best of it! Thanks for the links to your new publications. Did you translate either of these? Living Candles looks particularly appealing, I think…

    1. The deepest of ironies, right?
      I was the editor rather than the translator for these two books, but have translated and edited the third one (which we hope will come out end of April). Unfortunately, the translation grants commissions seem to be on pause right now, so I’m reluctant to embark upon something further with no certitude about getting paid.

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