One of several writing magazines to which I subscribe, Writer’s Forum, has a regular feature on the inside back cover entitled Where I Write, in which established authors describe the space in which they do most of their work. This month’s (August!) edition also contains a longer article headed Room to Write in which eight writers explain where they escape to write, and whether they regard such a place as a “necessity or a luxury”.
Amongst the “offices” cited by the respondents are specially designed, sound proofed studies, pergolas, sheds, beach huts, inglenook fireplaces and even the corner of the kitchen table. The accompaniment of dogs and music figure high in judgements of what aids creativity.
As I am never likely to be invited to contribute to such a feature, I thought I would take this opportunity to inflict my own preferences on you.
Firstly, there is no single place where I do all, or even the bulk of, my “writing”. The absence of a settled location in my house means I have to take my chances where I can.
Despite being from a generation reared on pen/pencil and paper, I tend to compose directly onto a computer, although I do, as the scribbling sages advise, have a notebook and pen (and now smartphone) with me at all times to capture those rare and precious moments of inspiration.
In no particular order here are my regular writing locations:
The front (second) bedroom – before the purchase, three years ago, of my laptop, and last year, my netbook, the fact that our single desktop PC resided here meant that this was the most common venue for my work. The fact, however, that it overlooks the road at the front of the house, and that there is a TV in it (and, of course, a bed!), all play to my innate inattentiveness, so it was hardly ideal. And then, for some unaccountable reason, guests staying in the room started to complain when they found me hunched over the desk at three o’clock in the morning with one finger stuck to the “delete” button on the keyboard.
The kitchen / diner – plenty of space, the most suitable table in the house and my most prized books almost within touching distance, but the insidious presence of yet more TVs in both the conservatory and living room, and all that food intoning “eat me” from fridge, freezer and cupboards alike make this far too distracting, though less so towards the end of the week when I feel as if I am auditioning for the role of Old Mother Hubbard.
(Pause for the fifth cup of tea of the day).
The (south facing) garden – a nice idea in the summer (if and when it arrives), but the glare of the sun, my recently acquired susceptibility to hay fever, and the noise of the neighbours’ children (or rather their fishwife of a mother), render it inconducive to concentration. There is a brick shed at the end of the garden, but I doubt that the mice, spiders and triffids would be too enthusiastic about sharing their home with me on a regular basis.
The train – despite having cashed in my chips at the commuter casino three years ago, I still make a number of train journeys, principally to London and back. At around an hour they are useful for planning writing exercises, and if the compartment is relatively quiet (no loud mouth Blackberry users confusing it for their office or shopping parties discussing last night’s soap story lines), I might just be able to write something worthwhile. The main drawback, however, is what I call the “Meopham triangle”, a 20 minute stretch of the journey when my broadband signal tends to wander off.
The library – all the local libraries provide a healthy number of computers for people to use, primarily, it would seem, for job search and social networking. This alone, for my part, demonstrates that they continue to add value to the community. Although time on the PCs is limited to an hour at a time and no more than two hours per day, the additional provision of quiet study areas enables me to use my netbook there too. Those with (cheap) coffee machines get an extra point – which leads me to what, in many respects, are my favourite places to compose……
Cafés and Coffee shops (is there a distinction?) – there is something about the environment that lends itself to both thinking and writing, and that is not just the smell of fresh coffee or the availability of free wifi and (not so free) cake. Perhaps it is the steady procession of customers, inadvertently, in their demeanour or conversation, offering up ideas for characters, situations or thought trails. Inconveniently, however, you are usually obliged to buy coffee, which can be expensive. If it could stay hot for longer than 15 minutes this would be the ideal place – maximum time, minimum cost. The only solution is to buy a frappé, frappuccino or cooler (depending on your vendor of choice) – I can make a medium sized version last a couple of hours.
Having seen what I have written above it is interesting to note that I appear to prefer, and get more written, out of the house – in a library or café – than in it. I think that reinforces my belief that there is a clear need to separate home from writing, though as some writers have claimed, that can be achieved in the physical space that constitutes that home. In the final analysis, I suppose it is, as the article in Writer’s Forum concludes, a matter of “finding your own space, whatever and wherever it is, where you feel comfortable and are the most productive”.
The dream of a discreet study, either in the house itself or in its grounds, and surrounded by all my books, lives on.
For the record. I have written parts of this article in a variety of places, including the kitchen, conservatory (with the fishwife in fine voice next door), on the 16.52 train from London Victoria to Ramsgate and Dover Priory and in my hairdresser’s waiting area.