Where’s the best place to write? As all aspiring novelists know, writing can be a lonely activity (unless of course you’re the Henry James or Agatha Christie type, and employ a typist). But, whether it’s a nondescript desk in your bedroom, a shed in your back garden, or something a little more exotic, writers can often develop peculiar emotional attachments to their writing spot.
I wrote my second book in Treviso in Italy in a small town called Fagare. I am not sure if location is important but solitude sure is. I don’t like people around me when I’m into the work. At the moment I am in Pellestrina in Venice working on my third novel. I walk every day on the beach to clear my head and then I work. On a good day I open the laptop at 11 and don’t emerge until 4. On a bad day I am distracted by wine and pasta, which is a pretty good bad day.
I’ve written one novel in a beach house, one sitting on the end of my bed, two in the British Library (when a baby made the end of the bed a bit noisy), two in my study and one in the kitchen. Wherever’s convenient, calm, quiet. I try not to fetishise the writing process with favourite pencils, special notebooks, magic coffee cups, etc, because ultimately they just create excuses not to write: ‘I can’t do it today: these aren’t the right socks, and anyway the tide is going out’. Writing is a constant battle against these bastard excuses. Apparently William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying while working as a night watchman, using an upturned wheelbarrow as his desk, in six weeks. Be like him: write everywhere.
I work mostly in my study at home, especially on the final furlong when I’m welded to the desk. But in the earlier, planning stages of a book when I’m feeling blocked or bored I go to the Wellcome Library in Euston. It’s a huge, beautiful library of medical books and I discovered it researching my latest novel. I’m a member: anyone can join. I sit in the History of Medicine section, overlooking the paintings and the staircase, and woe betide anyone who turns up early and gets MY seat.
Basically, I can work anywhere that’s warm (prime consideration!) and quiet (although I do sometimes work with music playing, and often in places like coffee shops, so presumably ‘white noise’ is fine and probably helpful). Place is less important to me than time. For me to work at least relatively well, I seem to need the illusion of there being endless time available to me: a whole day and evening (and preferable a succession of them) before me, with no calls on my time. That’s best achieved away from home, of course: so, I try to have ‘retreats’, a couple of times per year (e.g house-sitting for kind friends).
All my choices about where and how I write are based on minimising distraction. Much as I’d love to work in a bustling cafe or a beautiful library, I don’t have the attention span for it – even an ornate room is too much for my concentration. Instead, I write at a small desk in the corner of my front room, facing away from the window to stop me watching the street outside. There is only the white screen and the blinking cursor, waiting for my words. I have nothing in the world to distract me. Except the Internet, of course.
There was a sweet time in my life (pre-kids, of course!) when I had loads of time for writing. I’d write mostly in my study, but a few times I went away with my then-husband on an extended writing break to a cottage in West Cork, Ireland. We’d manage to get away for five weeks or so, which is unthinkable for me now! It was a fantastic place to write – we were usually there off-season in the Autumn or early Spring when it was cold and blowy. Days would be spent writing and walking and then evenings reading in front of a log fire. I do like to get away to write when I can because I don’t feel as though I should be doing something else instead, like cleaning the house or something. And if I’ve gone away specifically to write, it makes me get on with it.
These days I am very busy with Curtis Brown Creative and my own writing time is particularly precious and quite abbreviated. I write on my laptop in little scraps of time at the weekends (when my partner is fielding the children for me), and every now and then my partner (he’s also a writer) and I take a very short writing break together (more like five days than the five weeks of old). This Autumn we went to Trieste, where we stayed in an Air B&B and spent our days writing in cafes and going on walks.
It was fabulous, and I wrote LOADS in just a few days. The best cafe – which has become my very favourite cafe to write in anywhere in the world – is Caffe San Marco in Trieste. It was founded early in the 20th Century, when it quickly became a favoured writing haunt of James Joyce. It still feels very literary (and not in a crappy novelty way), and has a splendidly tatty-bohemian atmosphere, as well as a very good bookshop. It’s the loveliest place to sit and write and think, and of course drink vats of coffee.
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