Students & COVID – The forgotten voice

This photo used to be one of my favourites. It’s my son Kai and I, just over three years ago, on our way to his university interview. We were both incredibly excited, so full of hope for Kai’s future. Now looking at it makes me incredibly sad.

Kai is almost at the end of his time at uni and the onset of COVID has had an enormous impact on his course, Media Productions, a practical degree which doesn’t and hasn’t transferred well to online learning.

Without access to the university studio and the specialist equipment and being able to work in groups Kai is set to leave uni in three months with no portfolio and virtually no hope of breaking into the industry he is so passionate about. Despite this there is no chance of a refund on the £9000 fees he has paid each year. The government has given no direct financial aid to universities or students in England. The parliamentary debate on 16th November resulted in the government stating students had to contact their universities if they wanted a refund and so far, according to The Tab, only 1.6% of students who have tried to claim a refund have received a small sum. (As there were lecturer strikes at the beginning of 2020 in Kai’s second year there has been no face-to-face teaching for over 12 months now).

The course fees aren’t the only debts students accumulate. There is the cost of accommodation. Most students have been told not to return to campus under Gavin Williamson has unveiled a roadmap for a staggered return. Some accommodation providers are offering a partial refund but there is not official guidelines although this is something Boris Johnson as said he will ‘look at’.

So what about the students on practical courses who are leaving uni without the experience they signed up for and no prospects without portfolios?

The future is grim.

Here I chat to Kai a little further about the challenges he has faced in the past year. Apologies for the quality in some parts – but do give it a watch and if you’re a student, a parent or any one with constructive advice, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Lockdown – How my reading & writing habits have changed – #AuthorLife

Laura & Tilly are confined to their cult

My latest thriller is called ‘The Family’. It’s the story of Laura and her daughter, Tilly, who are indoctrinated into a cult. It’s set in a remote part of Wales and at the time of writing I had to rely on my imagination to put myself inside the heads of Laura and Tilly. How might they feel to lose their freedom, almost overnight? To be confined to the farmhouse and the surrounding land the cult reside in? To be forced to spend each and every day with exactly the same people? I crafted my story with the sense of feeling trapped, of claustrophobia.

Laura’s and Tilly’s tale, as well as being terrifying is also an emotional one so every now and then I’d step away from my computer and out into the bright sunshine. Meet friends for lunch. Go for a swim. Before returning to Laura and Tilly who were still trapped in the same place, with the same people.

Now of course, in these unsettling and uncertain times we live in it isn’t too much of a stretch to empathise with Laura and Tilly. To feel what they are feeling, and as someone who suffers with acute anxiety these feelings are both uncomfortable and unwelcome.

At the start of lockdown I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t read. I certainly couldn’t write.  At best I felt a constant low-level anxiety: scared for my family and friends; daunted by homeschooling; worried about our income, a shortage of food; the list was endless: at worst I felt a heavy dread which rendered me unable to focus.

Like everyone, I have been through tough times before so I did what I always do, increased my mindfulness practice. Meditating three times a day instead of once. Writing in my gratitude journal each morning and night instead of solely before bed, and gradually my tumultuous emotions began to settle.

I began to read again, choosing, not one of the many proof thrillers I am sent, but carefully selecting something that wouldn’t feel like work. I picked Louise Hare’s ‘This Lovely City,’ and for the first time, in a long time, my reading mojo came back. I lost myself in her story, her characters and for a while, I was able to forget, and that’s what a good book can do – transport you somewhere else entirely. Now I’ve started Tom Ellen’s ‘All About Us,’ which I’m equally enjoying.

My cosy reading corner in my study

I itched to write again, but what? I am waiting for my edits for my thriller which is publishing next year and also for my second contemporary fiction story written under the pen name ‘Amelia Henley.

My desk is (mostly) tidy…

The logical part of me knew I should write another thriller. Until my debut contemporary fiction book ‘The Life We Almost Had’ is released in July I don’t know whether there will be a market for future Amelia Henley books but as always, I had to follow my heart and write the story I’d loved to read. A story, as my Amelia Henley stories are, about love and relationships. I began penning the lives of siblings Charlie, Nina and Duke and their complex and complicated relationship. Whether this book will ever find its way into the hands of readers I don’t know but I’m loving writing it and finding that chink of happiness is so important right now.

Later in the year I’ll begin a new thriller, I’ve had a character in my mind for the past couple of years. I feel so extraordinarily blessed I can create worlds to escape to.

Have your reading habits changed and how are you occupying your time? Do let me know in the comments below.

The Family’ is currently part of the UK Kindle Monthly Deal – download a copy today for just 0.99p.

The Family‘ will be published in the US on June 9th – you can preorder it here. I’m loving the fabulous cover Grand Central Publishing have designed!

My chilling US cover