Gillian Harvey: How I’ve learned to handle setbacks and setups

Read the latest column from freelance writer, author and mum-of-five Gillian Harvey.

Robert Burns’ famous lines: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley” are hailed by many as accurately reflecting the human experience.

It doesn’t matter how well you plan, things can – and often will – go wrong.

If Burns had been a contemporary of mine, and had asked for my opinion on his ditty, I’d have suggested the following add:

The best laid scheme o’mice an’ men

Gang aft a-gley

And when women plan, it’s true

Things often go tits-up too.

Okay, Burns might have made it sound prettier. But there’s truth at the heart of my added lines.

Things don’t always go to plan.

And if anyone disagreed with this this before 2020, they’re certainly not going to now.

One of my main problems (the kind of problem you cite in a job interview when you’re asked for your weaknesses and want to look modest without actually admitting any of your scarier flaws) is that I’m a bit of a control freak.

Okay, more than a bit of a control freak.

Some people are kind enough to describe this as Being Organised. But I think anyone who’s worked with me in the past will probably not feel this quite covers all of my little ways.

In my defence, my desire to micromanage everything from my children’s emotions and my own career to my husband’s every waking hour comes from a good place. I just want everything to go well.

Someone like me does not function very well in a year like 2020 when the only way to survive has been to live on our wits, roll with the changes and try not to sweat the small stuff.

Reader, I ALWAYS sweat the small stuff. And the medium stuff. And you can only guess the amount of deodorant I need to apply before tackling the BIG STUFF.

My book release was the biggest success of my life. Of course, as a mum, I am now obligated to add that it’s the biggest success of my life other than my wonderful children (do men say this, I wonder?). Something I’d been wanting since I knew how to want. And something I’d overcome the odds to achieve.

Having your book released during a pandemic isn’t on anyone’s plan. And there’s really not much you can do to mitigate the circumstances.

I love my book. But because the shops were closed when it went out, and when they reopened they naturally moved on to the next big thing, it didn’t hit as many bookshops as I’d hoped. Being a published author hasn’t been quite the experienced I’d imagined.

And despite my careful micromanaging, even I was defeated by the spectre of Covid.

It’s been a tumultuous three months (for my husband, agent and publisher, that is) but I have learned to be patient, to accept the successes – the good reviews, the spikes in sales – as well as cope with feeling a little down at times.

And I’ve reminded myself that great novelists (Like Wot I Want 2B) take a book or two to get going sometimes.

And, if you can bear more of my poetry, I’ve rewritten Burns’ original classic to reflect what I hope will happen next.

The plans of women, mice and men,

Often go tits up

But there’s always next year, don’t forget

Be strong, and don’t give up

It’s good to plan and get things right

But also to admit

During a global pandemic

Your plans may turn to sh*t

Gillian Harvey is a writer and mum-of-five. Her debut novel Everything is Fine is out now.