Recently I gave an interview to Mademoiselle Women in which I was asked what advice I would give to people who wanted to follow in my footsteps. My answer was to find a writing space of your own. No matter how small or big, a corner or an alcove, or even a designated part of a table. But something, something, that is just your own, on or in which you can write. Afterwards, I thought this was the answer of someone who is now in a place privileged enough to occupy a space like this. After all, there must be lots of writers who don’t have this and manage perfectly fine from necessity or choice. Having a room of my own is a fairly recent phenomenon for me, having researched and written my first book in somebody’s else’s small kitchen on their table. Now, I have my own writing shed; a small brick building at the bottom of my tiny garden that opens out onto a slate-paved area which holds a cherry tree and pots of spiky plants and flowers.
While I was thinking about this place of my own, an article appeared in The Guardian showing Haruki Murakami’s desk – immaculate, ordered, and next to a wall of vinyl. The places that writers choose to create in is so unique to each of us. Rooms, wrote Plath in her journal, each room a world. And she was right – whether it is rooms in which we create or cook or love or read or eat, each room is a world. It holds our stories and our histories as clear as fingerprints, and in some cases the stories and histories of those who went before us.
My desk is not so ordered as Murakami’s, but it is quite tidy. I am surrounded by things which I like. Pictures of Plath, a Morrissey coaster for my cups of tea, lamps, a Mark Rothko gallery of postcards, little boxes full of stationery that I love but never use, books, rugs, a sofa (always commandeered by my dog, George), a wicker chair to sit in, a kettle, a heater for cold days, candles. It is here that I write. When I get tired and need a break or want to read, I squeeze up on the sofa with George.
Curiously, I always associate my writing shed with the beach. Partly because I live on the coast so the seagulls are a sonic backdrop to my day, but also because every morning before coming to work at my desk, I will have had either a run or walk on the beach with George, who then leaves piles of sand on the rugs and the sofa.
My shed used to be an old wash house at the start of the 20th century. It has a red brick chimney where the water would be heated, and it used to have a large sink. It may also have been used in the 1930s as a small poster printing space for a business that was run from the property. When I was younger (for I now own the house in which I was born) I used to think bears lived in the shed. It was a dark place with uneven, tilting slate tiles on the floor and a rickety wooden door. Sometimes it would be a den and there is still a faint trace on the outside wall where we once had a paint fight. I like these stories that emerge from just thinking about the place where I sit and work. People and lives before me, busy, making the place hum.
As I look up now from writing, a gold and black bee ambles across an orange flower outside the door and I think my stories are now becoming part of this place, my traces seeping into the very bricks. All of our rooms, where ever we are, a world – tangible, elusive but full of meaning.