At home with Anna Spargo-Ryan

This interview with Anna Spargo-Ryan is the first instalment of The Garret At Home - the same podcast as always, now recorded with everyone... at home.

Anna is the Non-Fiction Editor of Island Magazine. She received the 2016 Horne Prize for her essay ‘The Suicide Gene’, and is currently writing a memoir. She has also written for The Guardian, ELLE, Meanjin and Good Weekend.

Anna also publishes fiction, and she is the author of The Gulf and The Paper House. Her short fiction has been published inThe Big Issue, Island, Kill Your Darlings and The Lifted Brow.

She is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at Deakin University, where she also teaches nonfiction writing.

Anna Spargo-Ryan_The Garret At Home


ASTRID: Anna Spargo-Ryan welcome to The Garret at home!

ANNA: Thank you for having me at home.

ASTRID: (Laughs) Yes. We are currently looking at each other through Zoom as is the way we all now interact. This is the first episode of The Garret at home and I hope there will be many more. Now, Anna we have never actually met in person, although we are staring at each other now. This interview actually came because of a suggestion over Twitter.

Anna: I think most what I do happens because of a suggestion over Twitter to be honest (laughs). Most of my life plays out over Twitter. Do you know, it’s funny—it’s not funny, it’s just noteworthy—that at a time like this for someone like me, I have very bad anxiety and don’t go to a lot of things. This is more things than I have done for probably the past ten years. My god I can go to book launches, and I can go to writers festivals,            and I can go to workshops! So, I thought, what if I went on some podcasts? That would be nice. I wonder if anybody has any that they’re doing from home? And here we are.

ASTRID: And here we are. So, Anna you are a novelist, the author of The Gulf and The Paper House; you also write non-fiction and you won the 2016 Horne Prize for your essay The Suicide Gene. You are the non-fiction editor of the online journal Island magazine and you are a PHD candidate at Deakin University where you also teach. That is quite the resume! And it really intrigues me—your insight into, you know, we’re all at home, but you have structured a successful career from home. Well played, I have to say (laughs).

ANNA: Thank you, I was anticipating this would happen…

ASTRID: (Laughs)

ANNA: …so I thought I would spend most of my life working towards it. I have worked from home full-time for seven years? And ironically, I had recently moved into an external office. I leased a desk from a local animal photographer, which is wonderful because the office is always full of adorable animals being photographed. And I have this wonderful view over the park, and my children aren’t there, and it’s a really lovely place to work. And I had finally done that and figured that out, and then I think three months later was sent home indefinitely. So that was a bit sad. But yes, I have been working from home for a long time, but I come from a family of people who work from home—my dad has worked from home since I was a baby, so it’s a very normal thing for me to be at home all the time doing normal, business type things. Going to an office to do work seems quite strange to me.

ASTRID: So, can you describe your writerly setup from home? Your professional setup?

ANNA: (Laughs). Well, it’s a big white table and it’s just covered in all of my junk. I’ve got my laptop, I’ve got the clackiest mechanical keyboard I could find—the touch of a keyboard is a really important part of my writing, strangely enough, I mean, I guess there are other writers who feel strongly about keyboards—mostly it’s just a chaos of paper and books and pens and notes everywhere, quite a lot of rubbish to be honest. I look out of a window usually onto quite a nice bit of grass and greenery in my garden, but at the moment there’s a work site across the road. We’ve actually got a lot of trucks and cranes and things happening all the time, which is still essential so is still happening even though all of this other stuff is going on. It’s a chaotic and disrupted working environment actually, which is kind of how I like it. If I am going to be at home by myself most of the time working, it’s kind of nice to have a few chaotic inputs I guess, from outside especially. I don’t know what else to say about my workspace. If you saw it, you would wonder how anbody could possibly work there. It’s just crowded in everything. Actually, honestly a few weeks ago my tower of books that’s next to my desk did genuinely fall on me.

ASTRID: (laughs)

ANNA: And thought, that’s something that people talk about and joke about all the time and here I am crushed under a pile of, probably fifty books? And it just toppled over and there I was sitting at my desk and yeah, clang. So that’s the kind of workspace I have. I’m not an organised person and I’m not a tidy person, so it’s just all my things. Not even good things, all kinds of things.

ASTRID: To work from home for RMIT University this week I had to fill out a very long administrative form and I did not include the danger of books toppling in on me. Maybe I should I amend my form. So, you have been working from home for a while but are your kids there now? Has it changed given the lockdowns that we’re all experiencing?

ANNA: Yes, my partner’s working from home as well and both my kids are here. I have two teenagers and they are bored and angry (laughs), so it has been different. I think the main difference has been concentration—I can’t write at the moment except for work where I really just have to get on with it. Trying to find a creative energy at the moment is just too hard, I can’t figure out how to do that. And also, when I try it all comes out like, ‘the world is ending… COVID-19,’ all the words are just related to coronavirus. I’m trying to write a memoir which is due to be published next year. It’s a mental health memoir and when I first pitched it, it was before a whole lot of stuff happened. I sold the book, then I found out my mum has this hereditary deadly heart disease, and then the fires happened, and now this pandemic is happening. The nature of mental health is changing so rapidly that it’s very, very difficult to write. Every time I write something I think, well that was applicable a week ago, but now it’s different again, so that’s probably been the biggest challenge. Having my family around is a treat most of the time and then a nightmare a small portion of the time.

ASTRID: I think that sentiment might be echoed in households around Australia. I wanted to ask you about what you feel the role of a writer or a creative is at this moment in time? And you kind of pre-empted me by saying you’re not feeling like creating and every time you try it maybe doesn’t get past the obvious—COVID-19, coronavirus, pandemic. What is the role of both fiction and non-fiction, in terms of the creation of it, in a moment of crisis?

ANNA: There was a wonderful quote, and I’m afraid I can’t remember who it was from, recently that said something like, ‘writing things down now is an expression of hope for the future, that there will be a reason to have that art in the future, that there will be a future with creativity in it’. I thought that was really nice. My students are asking me a lot about ‘what’s the point of doing creative writing now?’ ‘It’s not a purposeful endeavour,’ or ‘I’m not saving lives,’ that kind of sentiment, which is very hard to get past, I think. Lots of people have said this, but you only need look at what people are doing now to understand how important art and artists are in a functioning society, where we suddenly have millions of people who are at home and all of the things that they’re doing are made possible by artists and art. So, I think contributing to people’s understanding is really important.

I think it’s easy to imagine that non-fiction writing is the more useful and obvious thing for people to do be doing, I suppose, where you’re saying ‘we’re going to get information out and it’s really important that people know the facts,’ which is true. But I think also there’s going to be a very important role for fiction in terms of giving people different ways to ingest what is happening and to understand and synthesize what’s happening. That just giving the most obvious information, I think often in a crisis like this becomes quite difficult to take on. And so, being able to understand and interpret it through other creative ways—whether they’re heavily fictionalised accounts, different genres that maybe are interpreting the coronavirus pandemic in different ways, or that they are structurally different, or that they are interesting stylistically, or that they are an escape but also have a message about something that’s happening now—that’s a different way to give people information when they have no more energy for all of the non-fiction ways, I suppose. So, I think creativity is a way of critiquing—there’s a lot to critique at the moment in terms of structures and governments—it’s a way to connect with people, it’s a way to do something that’s hopeful for the future. It’s also a way, if you can find the energy, to cope with your own existence, I mean that’s a big part of why lots of us write, I’m sure. That’s why I do it. It’s a ‘What do I think about this? I’d better write it down and find out,’ kind of thing. It’s a way to understand, and I think at the moment understanding and thinking critically is more important than ever.

ASTRID: So back to your memoir. You are writing a memoir that you obviously pitched in a different world—your personal life, your family’s life and the entire world has literally changed around you. That is quite scary. I don’t think you’ll have the answers yet, but there will be many writers in your current situation—they will have contracts, they will have made promises, and everything has changed. How do you as a writer and a creative start to navigate that? Because I’m working on the assumption that you still want to publish this memoir, but it’s not going to be what you thought you were going to write, and you’re writing as you are experiencing something which means you don’t have the benefit of ten years of hindsight, you have current experience.

ANNA: (Laughs) Now that you’ve worded it like that, I’m too scared to do it anymore…

ASTRID: Oh, I’m sorry! (Laughs)

ANNA: …so I’ll just quit! No, it’s fine! (Laughs) No, you’re exactly right. I think the main thing in terms of the actual business of writing is going to be open with the various people involved in the writing. So luckily, I have a wonderful publisher Mathilda Imlah at Picador who I’ve worked with on both of my novels as well, so I know her quite well and therefore it’s easy for me to go to her and say, ‘hey there’s a pandemic! Can I please have a little bit more time?’, or ‘maybe we can talk about how this has changed the nature of the memoir?’ I mean, given that we’re all doing it. If I can relate it to having a mental illness that sometimes makes things difficult for me to do: I have to explain to people that maybe I need a bit longer, or maybe I was disrupted, or I need to change a deadline, or I need to alter how I’m doing something, or can they be a bit flexible? Or can someone make an accommodation for me? And all of those things that come with having different access needs. At the moment, everybody has very similar access needs, in a way, much more than they usually do. There’s obviously extra disadvantage for people who are already disadvantaged, but it’s much easier to go to someone now and say, ‘hey, look at everything. Can we talk about how we can be a bit flexible on this?’ And there’s a whole wave of renewed or new flexibility that people are prepared to change the way that they operate or change the way that they think about things. So, I think it’s going to be a very normal thing to go to someone and say, ‘I know that we said that we were going to do this, but everything is different now so can we do it this way instead?’ So, communicating openly.

I think writing while things are happening is trickier, but the thing about writing about mental illness is always that there is no nice ending yet. When I was pitching this memoir, [I was asked] what are we going to finish on? Because the ending of a mental health memoir isn’t ‘and then I was cured’—there’s not a neat way. It’s always evolving anyway; I’m always discovering new things about the way that I experience life and illness. So, in that sense this is just another way of doing that, and so maybe it just becomes that the book opens with how I felt when I found out there was a deadly virus coming? But I’ve still got things to say about that in the context of what I would have written about and what I was writing about anyway, so it just becomes an extra facet of the life writing that I was going to already be doing.

ASTRID: You mentioned the conversations that you can have with your editor and publisher. Again, it’s too soon for either one of us to know what the answers are, but how is this impacting publishers but also writers who have books out there right now? I mean, you mentioned before online book launches which have never been a thing before, but now are most definitely a thing.

ANNA: Yeah, a huge impact on the people who have books coming out now and I’ve seen a few writers who either have brought their book forward or have pushed it back until after they imagine coronavirus will be gone. Probably the most surprising thing to me about publishing a novel was the amount of time that you get to promote it—how short that is. There’s this flash in the pan, here’s your book, it’s new, now there’s a whole lot of new books and no one cares about your book anymore. Which isn’t entirely true, but the marketing and PR period that you have to make a book successful is so brief and the idea of having it compounded by a global pandemic is a nightmare. I take my hat off to all of the authors who are just pushing through with books that they have spent years and years writing, and editing, and making beautiful. It must be absolutely heartbreaking for those people.

But having said that, there’s a huge push by the writing community and the reading community to support those writers which I think is wonderful. I went to Mirandi Riwoe’s book launch last week and there were 180 people there virtually. And we could see everybody’s faces, and we could all chat together, and we could see how happy she was that we were all there which was a thing that maybe you don’t get a close view of in the chaos of a live, in-person book launch. Where she could notice all of us and we could notice her, and there was a bit more time to be aware of each other which I thought was really, really nice. At an in-person book launch you rush through a reading, I know you can’t always remember even what you said, and afterwards it’s all a blur, and this was quite a reflective and nice event.

ASTRID: And that’s for Mirandi’s book Stone Sky Gold Mountain. I actually had the pleasure of interviewing Mirandi back when we were all allowed to be in the same room together and her interview will be coming out next!

ANNA: Oh, brilliant! She’s such a beautiful writer and her new book is also, as you would expect, just so gorgeous. But that’s the kind of book where you feel that this book deserves to have people’s attention, and it is amazing and wonderful that we have these other ways of doing that. So yes, really difficult, but there is such a big push to support writers and to get them through this incredibly difficult period in a way that reflects the spirit of the writing community, which is wonderful.

ASTRID: We are recording this interview in early April 2020. It seems like a year has gone by, but just a few months ago the writing community came together to support the fireys with Authors for Fireys, after the devastating bushfires of late 2019 and early 2020 in Australia. Now we have a global pandemic and I don’t quite know where I’m going with this, but my goodness it’s such a wonderful community that has experienced years of funding cuts and low incomes, and is now, like many other industries, completely devastated by COVID-19. But thinking about 180 people at a book launch via Zoom—that’s more than many authors get in a physical book launch. It’s a wonderful thing!

ANNA: It is. And all kinds of people could come that wouldn’t have otherwise been able to come which was also just a really nice thing. The circumstances under which it happened are horrible, obviously, but there are nice things about it in a way.

ASTRID: You are a writer, but you are also a consumer of media: you read, and you watch, and you listen. Do you find yourself drawn to fiction or non-fiction at this point in time?

ANNA: That’s a good question. I find myself drawn to interesting, beautiful writing which I know is not a real answer… It’s mostly to imagine the creation of beautiful things, I think. I’m not drawn in particular to one or the other and I never am—I read quite a good mix of both fiction and non-fiction. I’m not deterred by any topic in particular, I’m not avoiding reading about bad things or actively seeking out books about contagious diseases or the end of the world. But [I’m] mostly [drawn to] things that help me to reflect on the spirit of writing, I think. That’s not really a very good answer, but it’s mostly [a question of] did someone sit down and purposefully try to put something wonderful out into the world? I’m looking for those things. And sometimes it’s a really beautiful New Yorker essay, and sometimes it’s a Facebook post that someone wrote that reflects something they really felt was important to say. I’m not looking for or drawn to a particular genre or form, but really just keen for reminders of the importance of what we were talking about before, which is creating at times when creating is not easy. That you can still be doing it, that people have been doing it through difficult times, and that there is a reason to keep reading and that you can, then, bask in what makes writing and reading so wonderful. That’s one of the wankier things that I’ve probably said in my life.

ASTRID: It’s still true, still very true.

ANNA: (laughs)

ASTRID: You commission pieces—you are the non-fiction editor at Island magazine. When you are commissioning writing from someone else what are you looking for? And has that changed in the last couple of weeks?

ANNA: Well it literally has changed in that I have also commissioned a new piece about the arts during coronavirus, so yes, it has altered the way my table of contents looks. But also, Island is a quarterly magazine so we’re commissioning stories quite a way in advance, and in that sense it’s not easy to respond to the news cycle in the way that a newspaper can, or that a purely online magazine can. So the stories that I’m looking for are always people demonstrating a deep interest in something, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be something that they set out being hugely knowledgeable about, but something that was compelling enough to them that they wanted to find a way to say it to somebody else. And that’s always the best kind of essay, I think. I’m the non-fiction editor, as you said, which means that I’m always looking for truths, I suppose—ways of saying true things. I’m also a creative non-fiction teacher and it’s the same thing that I say to my students. [They ask] ‘What should I write about?’ and I’m like, ‘something that draws you in so much that someone else is going to find that interesting to read, and you are going to find an interesting challenge in expressing that in a way that captures your enthusiasm for it’. People who can do that are the ones that I want to read. So, any topics: I’ve got things about gardening, and I’ve got things about horses, and I’ve got a thing about Kylie Minogue. It’s a varied group of stories, but they all share the same enthusiasm.

ASTRID: I would’ve asked you my next question anyway, but I feel it’s now taken on a different potential meaning given that we’re all working from home remotely and can’t be in the same room as each other. But for an emerging writer who is pitching their work, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, how important is an online presence or a digital profile when an editor is considering taking their stuff?

ANNA: It’s an interesting question. I used to be a social media strategist, so my background is digital marketing and for me having a digital presence was sort of a given. But I love Twitter, so I would do it for pleasure anyway, and I do. People ask this question a lot and publishers ask it too. I know when I was pitching this memoir that I’m writing, that one of the things that my agent noted was how many Twitter followers I have. Therefore, I think it must have some impact on publishers. My feeling is that a bad social media presence—which is one that is abandoned or one that you don’t invest much time in—is worse than having none at all. It will help to promote your work to a point—people tend not to buy books through Twitter, for example, or through Instagram. It’s very hard to actually convert people into customers through those channels. Generally, it’s a profile-raising exercise.

My advice on it would be to make sure that you understand the reason that you’re doing it. It’s hard to generate an interesting amount of social media content that will keep making people want to talk to you. The misconception that I think a lot of would-be authors have is that they would be able to jump on Twitter and then tell people to buy their book: ‘Here’s a link to my book, go and buy it.’ And what social media is actually for is for engaging with actual people, and as we said before the writing community itself is so engaged, supportive, helpful and wonderful that it lends itself to that kind of engagement where you’re meeting other writers, reading what they’re doing, finding out more about their process, or hearing their interviews and all that stuff goes out through social media. It’s inviting you to be an engaged person in a social media community. It takes a lot of time to do that in an effective way, to the extent that when you then say, ‘I’ve got a book coming out,’ that people will care that you have a book coming out, or not. So, for a lot of people maybe that time commitment is too great, but it can be an effective tool if you have the resources to invest in it and you have a clear idea of what you want to use it for. Or, you just have a lot of time which is what I do—I have a lot of time so I just put every single thought that I’ve had on there and that is another way that you can do it. The conversion is tricky; it’s better in theory, I think. It’s a good marketing tool to sell a book to a publisher more than I think it probably is a good tool to sell a book to a customer. That might be a thing that maybe publishers don’t want me to say…

ASTRID: That is an excellent answer.

ANNA: …but I think that’s true (laughs).

ASTRID: That is an excellent answer because I teach, and I have lots of students asking me how they can improve their chances of getting published. Now, obviously the first thing is write something that’s great and you believe in, and that you actually want to write. And the next thing is be able to be found online and not be embarrassed by whatever someone’s going to find about you online.

ANNA: Yes.

ASTRID: But beyond that, I think it’s a really interesting discussion between all writers because all published writers use the online tools in a different way and we’re all rapidly learning to use them again in a different way! And even if something doesn’t convert to book sales, a profile helps even if it’s selling yourself to a publisher. So that is good insight, thank you Anna. (Laughs).

ANNA: Oh no, you’re welcome. I think even if you can have enough of a profile that an editor might recognise your name when you email them, that’s a good start. And then you’ve written something that’s wonderful that they will want to read and so after that they go, ‘wow, this is such great writing, I want to publish this’. But anything that can get you over that first hurdle is going to help. But, unless you have hundreds of thousands, or millions of followers, the actual social media presence isn’t going to override the quality of the work. Even if you have a very active social media presence, you still have to write something that’s excellent like you said. The most important thing is that you write something that you can be proud of, that’s finished and that is the best work that you can produce. Beyond that, anything that makes you recognisable to an editor is going to help you.

ASTRID: You’re also a PHD candidate at Deakin University. As I have said on previous episodes of The Garret, this does fascinate me: someone who is already working, who does have name recognition. What’s the lure of academia for you?

ANNA: I did half a journalism degree when I was younger and never finished it. And then, I think after the work that I did to write a couple of novels, some part of me—the part of me that had been through VCE, and got an ATAR, and wanted to get into uni, and tried to do a degree—just wanted someone to recognise that I knew a lot, I think, which is stupid. So, I went and did a graduate diploma of creative writing and I really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed it. I was surprised how much I got out of it. I guess, at one level arrogant, younger me imagined that I would know most of what they would tell me because I had written a novel. Like, ‘oh my god you guys, I’ve written a novel already so you don’t need to tell me this,’ kind of. And I learned so much and actually the essay that you mentioned at the beginning The Suicide Gene, I wrote that as part of my graduate diploma for my non-fiction unit that I did. I learned all kinds of things, I felt so enriched by this course that I had done.

And then the faculty actually approached me and said, ‘would you like to do a PHD?’, and look my ego went ‘yes, thank you for asking,’ it was a very nice to be asked (laughs). But also, I had an idea for some research that I wanted to do and the idea of having an excuse and a reason to do that research and writing, and to have a person in a mentor role who could help me through that was very enticing. Anything that allows you to immerse yourself in writing is why we go on retreats, and we go on fellowships, and we hope that we can stay in a villa in France and write a novel. It’s all of that same kind of thing: here’s me, a serious writer, doing serious writing and feeling like I have an excuse and valid reason to do it. The research itself has also just helped me understand all kinds of things better. It’s been more work and stress than I somehow expected, which is ridiculous, that’s just me ignoring all of my friends who’ve done PHDs and gone, ‘oh no, it will take over your whole life! Don’t do it!’ And I was like, ‘no, my PHD is different,’ and it isn’t at all (laughs). But my Dad, actually hasn’t been a writer, he’s a management consultant. But he also started doing a creative writing PHD after I started mine, we have the same supervisor…

ASTRID: Oh my goodness!

ANNA: …so now we’re sort of doing it together, yeah. She said it’s her first ever daughter and dad supervisor combo. I’m writing a family history about institutionalised women in the late nineteenth century, and childbirth, and fertility control and things. It has much more relevance to now than maybe I anticipated, which has been fascinating. So, I’m really glad that I’m doing it. But I had the same question. Before I started doing one, I would see people who were already working writers studying writing and think what is the point of that? But creative writing isn’t vocational—you don’t study creative writing and then go into a creative writing job, and there’s a career projection for a creative writer. Creative writing is everything that you do, in a way. And so, having study to support it and be enriched by that is just one part of it.

ASTRID: Anna, that is the most fulsome answer I think anyone has ever given me. Thank you very much on behalf of our listeners, but also on behalf of me who constantly flirts with the idea of a PHD but has never quite gotten there, so thank you (laughs).

ANNA: (laughs) I’m glad. Do it! No, don’t. Yes, but do.

ASTRID: Maybe if I’m stuck at home long enough, the idea is going to become more attractive.

ANNA: That’s right! Actually, I don’t know if you’ve had this experience too, but as a teacher I’ve had a mix this week of people dropping out and people taking up more units than they were. So, people are going, ‘Oh, I’m at home, I may as well study an extra unit!’

ASTRID: Oh, I’ve had that too. It’s been a week of people leaving me and people desperately trying to join me.

ANNA: Yeah!

ASTRID: I don’t know whether to be offended, or excited, or just hold my judgement for a semester.

ANNA: Yes.

ASTRID: So, talk to me about your role as a teacher. You teach non-fiction and that is…

ANNA: And fiction.

ASTRID: …and fiction. What is one of the most common mistakes that you see students who are emerging writers, whether fiction or non-fiction, make? And I don’t mean grammatical mistakes or not editing their work, I mean in how they’re approaching their writerly goals.

ANNA: The main one, I think is being in a rush. I think people are very keen to get published as quickly as possible and they have this idea that once they get to the end of the book then all they have to do is send it to a publisher—or even before they get to the end of the book: once I’ve written three chapters I’ll send it to a publisher and they will be so blown away by my incredible talent that they’ll publish me straight away. And I was one of those people—I sent an unfinished, unedited manuscript to an agent and then later went, ‘Oh god. Now I know better. Can I please just apologise forever?’ But the idea that it’s a race to the end, when writing is actually the entire process of writing. And it’s easy to imagine that being published is the end-goal and that is the part of it that makes it writing, but actually it’s all of the other things that you do along the way as well. I know that for me, like probably lots of listeners, being a writer was my lifelong dream since I was a little girl. I’ve still got all these little stories and books that I wrote as a child that my dad kept, and I’ve always wanted to be a writer. When my first book came out, I felt this incredible sense of loss, which was: I’ve fulfilled my dream and now I don’t have a dream anymore. And I went to my therapist (laughs) like ‘but I published a book! Why am I so deflated, and even a bit sad when I’ve done this thing that I always wanted to do?’ And you know, well you’ve done it, it’s behind you—becoming a writer is behind you. And the only way I got over myself about that was to appreciate all of the things that writing is. So, don’t rush and don’t fixate on the end-goal. Everything that you write is not a waste of time, everything you write contributes to your writing practise and to what you know about writing, and to how you are as a writer, and to how you evolve. I guess, slow down and appreciate the craft of writing, and the fact that you are lucky enough to be able to sit down, or stand up, or however you write and actually put words together that move people, or that inform people, or that breakdown barriers. That’s what writing is.

ASTRID: That is such a beautiful answer Anna. Thank you so much.

ANNA: Thank you for asking!

ASTRID: You are well practised at working from home, and that’s where we started the interview. For those writers and readers who are out there listening to us chat today, can you leave them with a message about how they can best approach this new life we all have from home?

ANNA: I think at the moment in particular it’s about being kind to yourself. I got an email this morning from a fitness centre that was, ‘oh, you’re probably worrying about how much weight you’re putting on,’ or, ‘you’re probably worrying about how much your fitness regime is suffering right now’. And I just unsubscribed instantly, but I also thought that is so much pressure to put on ourselves. So, I think at the moment, in particular, to just go gently with yourself. You don’t have to achieve a normal amount. I saw someone on Twitter say, ‘I’ve been working from home for a period of time. This isn’t working from home; this is working during a pandemic and they’re different’. So, don’t expect a normal level of productivity, and don’t expect to feel like you can do all of the things that you would normally be able to do. That’s, I guess the first thing. Maybe that’s the only thing, what was I going to say? I do think when this started, I was really gung-ho about being involved in lots of virtual things: having watch-parties and doing things with people all the time. I felt like everything could be turned into content, in a way. Like, ‘I’m going to make dinner, do you want me to live-stream it to you?’ And now it feels a little bit more settled than that, I suppose and that might be a good thing. That’s part of treating yourself gently—to reach out to people, and engage, and seek human contact in the amount that you need, not the amount that people are enforcing or suggesting all of the time. Which is, you know, join this Facebook group and then every day of the week we have a different kind of livestreamed event with multiple people, and you can learn how to cook, and you can learn how to sew… I’m just like, okay. But it’s only been three weeks. We don’t have to do everything all the time. Just be easy on yourself and don’t pressure yourself into achieving lots of things right now. It does feel like an ideal time to learn a new skill and I’m on the phone to my mum going, ‘can you teach me how to sew a sleeve onto a top? I’ve never done it before and maybe we could Zoom and you could show me on your machine?’ But it doesn’t need to be like that all the time. It’s fine to just have a day where you get up and you go, ‘Wow, 800 people died overnight in America. I’m just going to go on the couch and I’m not going to go to any watch parties, and I’m not going to learn how to crochet. I’m just going to be a person trying to get through a thing that’s horrible that’s happening’.

ASTRID: Anna, thank you for your advice and your words of wisdom.

ANNA: Thank you so much for having me.