For most of us, lockdown has meant a bewildering onslaught of free time that seems to stretch on for ages. We don’t know what to do with the newfound space in our calendars – our whole lives have taught us to be perpetually busy – so we fill it with baking, yoga, endless Zoom calls.
But for some, cancelled plans and empty days have presented an opportunity for something different. These people have taken themselves somewhere quiet, and dusted off that old notebook, or reopened that Word document that’s been left untouched for months. They’ve unburied their project, resurrected their work in progress.
If that sounds like you, then you might be a writer. But what exactly does it mean to be a writer in the context of a disrupted world? Why is it that, while everything around us is in a state of upheaval, we’ve turned to words as a source of solace, self-expression, and entertainment?
Vision Books got talking with Katrine Hjulstad, a writer, York student, and co-founder of The Quarantine Journal. Katrine’s project has been providing a platform for student writing and an archive of stories about life in and beyond lockdown. We talk about her inspiration for her blog, and what writing means to her.
York Vision: What inspired you to start the Quarantine Journal?
Katrine: I think it was mainly the wish to keep in touch with friends in the UK after I went back to Norway. Before COVID-19, we were several students who met in my kitchen to eat biscuits, have a drink, and talk about writing, so moving onto an online platform to keep sharing our writing seemed to be a logical progression.
V: How has writing influenced your lockdown experience?
K: Writing in itself is a bit of a lonely experience, in the sense that many writers working on the same text could lead to the same scenario as too many chefs in the kitchen. But to have this small community where we can give each other feedback makes us more connected. Of course, that we share our writing with our readers and hear that our readers are enjoying it also makes us feel less alone. Overall, I think writing has made the lockdown experience richer than it otherwise might have been.
V: In your own words, why is writing important in a time of crisis?
K: I think writing is a way of doing something in a time when there is relatively little we as writers can do. From the point of a literary scholar, I also find that any writing from a certain period of time tells us something of how people were feeling at the time—what they were concerned with, what was going on, their general reactions.
V: You’re stranded on a desert island, and can only take one book with you. Which book is it?
K: This is always a tough question, but I have this English copy of The Lord of the Rings from 1992 that dad bought when he was in his thirties. It is rather battered and torn now, and mostly kept together with clear tape, but I think that is the one I would have taken with me.