Monday, 7 January 2008


Sorry for the dearth of posts over the weekend – our internet connection has been down and we’ve only just got it back. I cannot believe how internet-dependent we have all proved to be – kept saying to each other ‘I’ll just check that’ and reaching for the laptop only to realise, in a crestfallen manner, that online checking was not available. And, apart from the dictionary and an ageing encyclopaedia we have no other checks to make.
Anyway, back now, so here’s Saturday’s delayed post.

David Isaak commented on Friday’s post that he couldn’t possibly write in public and that got me wondering about how much the place where we write affects our work.
One of the weekend papers had a series last year called ‘where I work’ or ‘my study’ or some such thing. You can see how bad my memory is – can’t recall either the publication or the title. I can’t remember any of the writers whose work-spaces were featured either but that’s not the point, the point is that they all had a dedicated space in which they did their stuff.

But when I read what the likes of Joanne Harris have to say about catching time to write in airports, on trains, planes and in waiting rooms, I begin to wonder whether necessity forces us to be more flexible. When on a book tour, maybe work on the next novel has to take place under less than ideal conditions. Joanne Harris says she has a study in her new house which is something she’s never had before, but it seems to me that she worked very well without such a luxury.

I once heard (though not from her own mouth, therefore not v. reliable information) that Libby Purves writes all her novels sitting in bed with her dressing gown on. I couldn’t do that. To me being in bed during daylight hours smacks of being unwell and that wouldn’t be a good place at all from which to work.

I know PG Wodehouse used to do a lot of his writing in the garden. No screens to keep the glare off then, obviously, just paper in the typewriter. And, now I come to think of it, it always seems to be summer in his books…

And perhaps that’s it. Perhaps what we all need, wherever we choose (or are forced) to write is somewhere which enables us to tap into that place inside our heads where our alternative worlds play out, where we can see our characters, hear them and understand not only what they’re doing but why they’re doing it. Stephen King recommends putting your desk against a blank wall to remind yourself that what you’re doing is not part of the everyday world around you, that you’re entering an alternative universe.

Clearly, that works for him. But, for me, I get stuck in a rut too easily. Words don’t always just pour out, I have to work hard at finding them, at mind-melding with my characters, at feeling my way into the world I’m writing about. If the kitchen has become somewhere where that process has ground to a halt, then I’ll try the living room, or (at least on dull days – I do need to be able to see the screen) the glass-roofed space which we, somewhat inaccurately, call the conservatory. OK, tea-making apparatus isn’t so close at hand but one has to make sacrifices. The final draft of Testament was mostly written in a regular peregrination from conservatory to living room with occasional diversions to a friend’s house when things had really frozen up and I needed to be somewhere with no connotations of failure to engage.

The current work in progress is taking place largely in the kitchen and, as mentioned on Friday, in my favourite coffee shop whose ladies loo, by the way, has the most unexpected view of Canterbury cathedral’s west towers (not the one in the picture above) over a higgledy-piggledy Kent peg-tile roofscape. I love red tiled roofs, especially ancient ones which sag onto their rafters and have a patina of lichens and acreted debris not unconnected with environmental pollution. But I digress. This coffee shop also offers free wireless internet access, so it’s also possible to sit there and do research, though I’ve never yet tried to post a blog from there. That just feels – at least as yet – like something I do from home.

What do all you other writers out there think? Does where you write influence your thought processes? I know some people simply cannot write at home - any other foibles of that sort out there?


Tim Stretton said...

Time is more important to me than space. I need to know that I'll have an hour free of interruptions, otherwise I'm too edgy to concentrate.

If I know I have that hour, I can work anywhere. I've written in cafes and airport departure lounges (always a spare hour there!). I can work in any room and on any PC at home.

I work best--and this seems to be a common theme--on a PC that isn't connected to the internet. OK, so I can't check how to spell 'd-o-g' on, but I'm freed from the terrible distraction of the online world...

Alis said...

Yes, it is a terrible distraction isn't it? My New Year's resolution (and I don't usually make them) is to read blogs at lunch time instead of before i start writing. We'll see if i can keep it up!

Akasha Savage said...

I so absolutely agree with Tim Stretton. When I first started writing my novel, we had no internet connection, and things went from strength to strength. Now I can go online I find I waste more time than I actually have. Which leads me onto my favourite writing space - in bed with my laptop (which incidently won't link to our internet connection!)- my faithful dictionary at my side.

David Isaak said...

Yep, I do most of my writing on a non-internet-connected laptop.

I can't write in public, though I can get some good thinking done there. My favorite place to write, though, is in absolutely faceless boring hotel rooms, preferably with nasty weather outside.