One pledged to find true love, another to lose two stone. But as top writers confess in hilarious laments, 2020 was: The year that wrecked our resolutions

  • Six British writers reveal the New Year’s resolutions they struggled to achieve
  • Emma Hill, 37, failed to meet her dream man because of covid-19 restrictions 
  • Novelist Amanda Craig gave up on her weightloss goal while working from home 

New Year’s resolutions can make fools of us at the best of times. Yet 2020 saw even the most iron-willed among us fail to accomplish our goals.

Thanks to the pandemic, most people simply settled for trying to stay solvent and sane. Here, six writers reveal the resolutions they made this year, which now seem so naive…

I VOWED I WOULD MEET MY DREAM PARTNER…

by Emily Hill

I defy anyone to come up with a 2020 resolution that looks quite so ridiculous as mine.

With my rapidly decaying ovaries and my baby-mad brain, I was utterly intent on falling in love this year, and resolved to meet a man through work or friends.

Six British writers revealed the New Year’s resolutions they failed to achieve during 2020, including Emily Hill (pictured) who hoped to find her dream man 

In 2019, I had downloaded dating apps to cheer up my dying grandmother, who had married happily at 18 before producing seven children, and to whom I felt I was a desperate disappointment for being single and childless in my mid-30s.

She picked a man named Roy off the app Hinge for me, and we ended up in the Maldives shortly after. When he stopped returning my texts and calls that summer, my grandmother was in the late stages of terminal cancer and said: ‘How rude! You must go and find where he has gone’ — then promptly died. It was very likely grief that drove my pursuit of him from January 1 until Ash Wednesday, when I succeeded in giving him up for Lent.

I went on one date after that with a man I met via another app, Bumble. But Covid-19 and the first lockdown put paid to socialising. My handsome stranger and I kept up a text relationship until it became clear he was only after the one thing he couldn’t get.

In May, on my 37th birthday, I’d been all alone for months. So when a sweet-seeming man I met on a Thames-side walk asked me to drink Champagne with him at a distance, it all went far too fast and we ended up bubble lovers; worried I’d put my parents at risk, I chose to stay in London with him over visiting them in Norfolk. When I wrote about my decision in this newspaper, readers pointed out that I was deranged and the relationship doomed, and they hoped my parents would disinherit me.

They were right. My ‘bubble love’ broke up with me the second restrictions lifted, without a second glance. Then, in September I had an accidental one-night stand while clearly demented with loneliness. And now, of course, I’m banned again from meeting a single man.

I can’t imagine any 2021 resolutions going much worse. But I’ve learned my lesson now — I’m not making any.

…TO BE ADVENTUROUS WITH MY LOOK

by Farrah Storr

On my one-year anniversary as editor-in-chief of Elle magazine, I found myself make-up free, wearing a pair of cashmere joggers and huddled in an old out-house that I had commandeered as my new ‘home office’.

This was not part of my 2020 plan. Just a few months earlier, on the cusp of a new year, I had vowed two things: more time at home with my husband and dogs, and more time experimenting with my style.

It’s laughable when I look back, because as 2020 draws to its sad, whimpering end, I have over-achieved in one department and failed spectacularly in the other. My husband now has a wife he sees 24 hours a day, while my wardrobe has an owner who uses only the ‘comfy’ drawer.

Farrah Storr (pictured) who vowed to be adventurous with her look, said jewellery seemed an excessive irritant during lockdown 

At the tail end of February, it was all going so well. I was in Milan, 24 hours away from the news that a plague was about to send us all running for the first BA flight out of Malpensa.

I had a bold new fringe. A proper chocolate cake wedge of one that hung over my eyelids like a thunder cloud. I had a white, billowy men’s shirt on, a waterfall of gold chains round my neck and low-slung mannish trousers that looked as though they had escaped from the Annie Hall wardrobe department.

I was finally on my way to finding my ‘look’ — something which, in between jostling for a career, getting married and adjusting into adulthood, I’d somehow forgotten to do.

And then . . . lockdown. Suddenly jewellery seemed an excessive irritant, a crisp, white shirt too perilous for a country house with two slathering dogs, and as for the trousers, well who was going to see them?

So the past ten months have been eked out in the sort of things I used to wear in my student days — soft, comfy trousers, cosy jumpers and not an underwired bra in sight.

As for the fringe, now unfettered from its monthly trim, it’s skulked back into the ranks of ‘cowardly approximation of a fringe’ — all wispy bits that hang at the side of my head like an old shower curtain.

Still, at least I made good on one promise: spending more time with my husband. Although a year of conjugal working arrangements means my 2021 resolution may just be ‘spend more time apart’.

…TO GIVE UP MY TRAVEL HABIT

by Kate Mosse

I nearly didn’t go to Cape Town. It was clearly daft to go all that way for just six days, especially since the huge price difference between flying direct and going via Johannesburg meant a good few hours had to be added to the journey. But I needed to nail the last bit of research for my next novel, The City Of Tears, and I wouldn’t get another chance. There was so much scheduled for 2020.

I arrived blinking and rumpled at OR Tambo International Airport, then instantly got lost in the labyrinth of signs and instructions to get to the domestic terminal for my connection. I’d travelled a fair bit already in 2019, all enjoyable once I was there, but I was weary of border controls, queues, removing shoes, jackets, and toiletries in a plastic bag. Too many things lost to the grey plastic bins at Heathrow Terminal 5.

Kate Mosse (pictured) said her resolution was to be more responsible about her carbon footprint and she will continue to think about the impact her travelling has on the environment in 2021

As I staggered down anonymous corridors, with the real possibility that I was going to miss my transfer to Cape Town, I decided that I wasn’t going to do this any more.

At least, not so much. My resolution for 2020 was to be more responsible about my carbon footprint. I’d fly less, try to use trains if I could.

It felt like a decision. A proper resolution. Because if you’re not giving up something you like, or something that makes your life easier, what’s the point?

Resolutions are about pressing re-set, about willpower.

I haven’t stepped foot in an airport since getting back, though not through any resolve or strength of character, but because of Covid. The stinker of a year that’s been 2020.

This year, I’ve lived a local life — for the most part willingly so. I’ve written, read, walked, remembered holidays, but stayed put in Sussex.

So what about resolutions for 2021? For it to mean anything, it has to be the same — to fly less, to think more about the impact my travelling might have on the environment, to be more responsible about not adding to pollution levels and global warming.

But this year, it will be so much tougher. Because after a year spent at home, I confess I look back with nostalgia to the bustle of airports; to the peculiarity of the spaces that exist out of time and place; to the glass of Champagne at a counter at 10am (because the sun’s over the yardarm somewhere); to the browsing in expensive shops for cardigans I will never wear.

The joy of an airport is that it’s not real life, that it holds the promise that, within hours, you could be anywhere in the world.

But, still, I’m going to try to fly less. Because during the first lockdown, when I walked on the South Downs close to my house, I could hear the silence. Very few cars and no planes, a sky of endless blue and clear air that I remember from my childhood.

For a few weeks in spring, we saw what the world might look like if we took more care. We saw that it made a difference.

The City Of Tears by Kate Mosse is out on January 19 (£20, Mantle/Pan Macmillan).

…TO SLIM DOWN FOR THE SUMMER

by Amanda Craig

Every year, my New Year’s resolution is the same: to lose weight. This year, I had aimed to lose two stone.

My battle will be familiar to many, but for authors it’s worse. You spend most of your life writing in solitary confinement, barely remembering to brush your teeth. As publication looms, you emerge as fat and foul-tempered as a bear and rush about visiting the dentist, hairdresser, gym and doing all the things that saner people do as a matter of course.

I had a new novel, The Golden Rule, coming out in June, and I knew I had to at least try, once again, to look normal. Only this year, almost everyone but key workers joined me in the bear’s den. Locked down and cut off from friends and colleagues, we all became fat and frumpy. To hell with vanity! We deserved that home-baked sourdough, chocolate biscuit and extra glass of wine while working like lunatics from our bedrooms.

Amanda Craig (pictured) who aimed to lose two stones, said we deserved home baking and wine during lockdown 

As literary festivals moved online, I discovered that the simple act of raising my laptop 6 in made me look 20 lb slimmer. Result!

The downside of Zooming, however, is that suddenly you notice other flaws in your appearance. I became obsessed by the way my front teeth were socially distanced from each other. Discussing Dickens with one eye on my canines, I told myself it wasn’t really that bad. I was cutting my husband’s hair with the same electric shears I used on the dog; we were all looking a trifle weird. Surely my lovely readers wouldn’t mind either?

After the lockdown, we returned to London. Oh, the shame! I was able to have a small, socially distanced launch party while wearing a kind of tent. Yet my several chins could no longer be ignored.

My dentist was now offering to make smiles ‘Zoom friendly’, however. The cost was the same as the small holiday we could no longer take.

I opened my mouth, and my purse, and after an hour of minor horrors, tottered home. ‘Lockdown has suited you,’ my husband said. ‘You look completely wonderful.’

Next year, I might actually keep that resolution.

The Golden Rule by Amanda Craig is out now (£16.99, Little, Brown).

…TO READ SMARTER BOOK

by Flora Gill

Turning 30 this year, I decided back in January that the books I read should reflect this grown-up age. They should be the kind you see real adults reading, written by CEOs and historians, with bold lettering and stern portraits on the front. Basically, I decided to read more non-fiction, valuable books that make you sound smart at dull dinner parties.

The year began on track with a book about Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, but when the world changed, so did my reading list.

Flora Gill (pictured) said she vowed to read more non-fiction in 2020, however she ditched her resolution in favour of reading for her own pleasure 

Like many people, I found parts of this year difficult and lonely. In these moments, the pile of memoirs and stories of long-dead monarchs on my bedside table was no comfort.

So I ditched my resolution and fell back into reading for no other purpose than my own pleasure. Forget self-improvement.

I read Elizabeth Day’s novel The Party and was entirely absorbed in the drama of characters who felt eerily familiar. I laughed giddily at Richard Osman’s crime-solving octogenarians in The Thursday Murder Club. I got a sneak peek at the raunchiest book I’ve ever read with Daisy Buchanan’s Insatiable.

And in my weaker moments, I leant back on the Young Adult category, re-reading Twilight for some vacuous sparkly vampires.

Longing to enjoy the escapism with others, I set up an Isolated Book Club with both old friends and complete strangers. They were the only Zoom calls I didn’t dread as we argued, discussed and examined worlds that would have no impact on our lives.

After our final Zoom of what we thought was our last lockdown, a woman I’ve never met in person, but now feel remarkably close to, sent me a text telling me how important the club had been to her and just how much it had helped.

This year has reminded me that fiction isn’t intrinsically ‘worth less’ than non-fiction. Reading doesn’t have to broaden your mind to be important.

Speeches spoken by fictitious heroes can have just as much impact on our lives as those by our real-life idols.

The pandemic has left many gaps in people’s lives and I found at least some of them could be filled by novels.

The escapism of a holiday, the comfort of a friend, the excitement of a new lover — they can all be found in the pages of a book.

Follow @FloraEGill on Instagram to join Flora’s new book group.

…TO BE A BETTER, HEALTHIER MAN

by Simon Mills

Every December 31, I make the same wildly over-reaching and unattainable list.

Be a better, kinder, more appreciative boyfriend. See as much of my two daughters as possible. Cook healthier food and eat it in smaller portions.

Work on my house and make it more of a home. Drink less alcohol and exercise more. Come off social media and, instead, challenge my brain with serious literature, intelligent theatre, contemporary art and foreign films.

Be a thinner, older, more compassionate, more worldly, more politically aware, nicer grown-up.

Simon Mills (pictured) said his pledges quickly dissolved, as he watched rubbish on TV read less and ate whatever he wanted 

In a normal year, I can stay on track with around 50 per cent of this stuff until spring, sometimes even into the summer months.

But 2020 has been a resolute trainwreck; as the first lockdown took hold, my shiny list of pledges quickly dissolved into sadly unrealised dead ends. Instead of arthouse cinema, I watched utter rubbish on the TV. I read less, drank more and ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to.

I rarely got to see my kids. I became grouchy and unlovable.

Get fitter? I just wanted to stay alive. That meant not only trying to swerve Covid-19, but avoid being the kind of cantankerous old git my long-suffering girlfriend might want to smother with a pillow while I snored — loud snoring, of course, being a direct result of drinking too much wine pretty much every night in 2020.

And my freeze on social media? As soon as lockdown began, I was posting cute pictures of my dog, a recently chainsawed log pile and a freshly made batch of wild garlic pesto.

One 2020 resolution was realised though. Almost.

During the pandemic, I worked tirelessly on my little cottage. I painted, filled, fixed, rewired, planted, mowed and rearranged. Nice new things — lights, cushions, sheets and rugs — were purchased, clicked and collected.

The world was crazy, but my house was cosy.

Then, on December 23, came torrential rain in Oxfordshire. A neighbouring field not draining, surrounding ditches overflowing — and suddenly 18 in of water was sloshing over the top of my wellies in the sitting room. Cushions ruined. Christmas cancelled.

Tonight’s new New Year’s resolution? Trying to forget 2020.

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