There was a minor kerfuffle a while back when Arron Banks (dodgy Brexit backer – no, don’t bother looking him up, you’ll just feel as if you need a shower afterwards) accused JK Rowling of being ‘pretentious’ for mentioning she had a writing room. The response was pretty amusing with the good and the great as well as the ‘commoners’ chipping in with some pretty amusing responses. “I know a really pretentious mechanic who has a GARAGE .” was a good one.)
The last comment sums it up to me. If writing is a job – or even if it isn’t, surely you need somewhere to work. My wife paints, draws, and does various other arty things (you can see some of her stuff at RagtagMagpie.com or just check out my book ‘You Could Make a Killing, which features her cover) – she takes her sketch pads with her most places we go and she got some pretty great stuff in London, New York, Ljubiana and, if I recall, when we were out shopping a couple of weeks ago a mile from our house. At home, she tends to have one place where she likes to work. Likewise, I tend to take a notebook in one form or another (and I wrote about different devices back in Writing Resources: 10/100- Write on different devices) some of which are definitely more portable than others.
I can, and have, written in a lot of places – the emergence of the laptop back in my early days as first a sales rep and then later in a global Marketing role meant I spent a lot of time away from home and writing in airports and hotels became a good use of time. I have, thanks to my time at Oxford University, a pass to the reading rooms at the British Library. If you go there you’ll find people all over the place – in the restaurants, seating outside, even squatting on the floor, pecking away at their tablets and laptops – clearly hoping that some of the centuries of written word held there will enter their work by osmosis. If you’re really lucky and can get one of the aforementioned passes, you can work in the rarified airs of the reading rooms:
It’s a nice place to write, as well as read – thoughtfully laid out with plug points and reading lights of the non-gas variety just to show they are up-to-date with these things. It’s an experience: the list of what you can and can’t take in, and the process of ordering a reference book you need is brilliantly academic.
I’ve written in the Bodleian Library in Oxford which is if anything even more steeped in tradition than the British Library…
An incredible space, although my writing experience there was less pleasurable – I prefer to be finishing my psycho killer novel than my dissertation on Strategy and Innovation with a tight deadline for some reason.
I point these two examples, not as an attempt at bragging (well, maybe just a bit…), but to say that yes, of course it is possible to write anywhere – and I have written some of my favourite stuff in hotels from Southend-on-Sea to Seoul, of varying degrees of quality (some of the food was truly unrecognisable and not fit for consumption by the western pallet – but enough about Southend), but I do have a place I like to write best.
I write in my cellar (or Basement if you prefer – I even used it as the title for my first collection Basement Tales ). Traditionally the cellar in our house has been ‘the boy’s room’ – from my son being young where we used it as a playroom, through to getting a snooker table in there to go alongside the piano and the Xbox and my couple of thousand book library (it’s a reasonable size that old cellar of ours) – but I’ve always kept the little space under the stairs as my writing space.
As you can see, it hasn’t got the opulence of The Bodleian but it’s got what I like: a comfortable chair, a shelf for my reference books, space to pin up inspiration (directly behind my nice and big screen is C. Robert Cargill’s advice which is still the best I’ve read: How to Write a Novel: 1) Think up a story 2) Using about 80,000 words write the story down. Pitfalls that get in the way of writing a novel: 1) Not thinking up the story 2) Not writing down the story 3) Writing down most, but not all of the story 4) Pissing about on the internet), music, a printer, the internet (which despite said most valuable advice I still piss about on), and a heater. It doesn’t even need a heater: but I think maybe I’m trying to channel some Roald Dahl writing conditions there.
Why is it important? It’s regular. It’s close. It’s comfortable. It’s somewhere I can go to and feel a little bit cut off from the goings-on in the rest of the house and, sometimes, life in general.
It allows me to create a routine. Once I’m in the cellar, I’m there to write (I don’t play the piano anymore, have no one to play snooker with, and the most exercise I’ve got from the little gym down there was assembling the damned thing.
We’re intending to move house soon – to head up to what I still call home in the North East of England despite not having lived there for 30 years. We’ve started househunting and seen some beauties. My wife does the sensible things you should do when you look around a house you’re thinking about buying. Me? I try to engage with that too, but there’s always the part of me that is looking around it asking, “Where will I be able to write that I like as much as my old cellar?”
Coming soon…a few writers share their own personal writing spaces…watch out for it.
(Oh, and the space at the beginning of the article is Ernest Hemingway’s writing space I was lucky enough to visit in Cuba)