A few days ago I told you all about my office and how I fought valiantly to get it back from beneath a quagmire. This is me in a fervent plea to have an office space.
It’s affectionately known as, ‘writer having hissy fit’. Now, a few of you have asked me why it is so damn important for writers to have a space. Well, to be truthful, no one asked me because there are more important things in your life than a writer stamping his feet and pointing at a room screaming, ‘Mine!’ But for the sake of the argument, the post and possibly an ego, let’s say you did and let’s pretend you’re not going to point out that you didn’t. That would be churlish. This is a story and it’s important we keep on track. Now, I can only speak from my point of view as a writer and lay out some reasons why having a space is important:
1. I am a creature of habit. I can tell you every writing space I have had from University onwards. Don’t believe me?:
- An Amstrad word processor precariously perched on top of a pile of records at my parents house. I wrote my first novel there and it was a terrible dystopian novel picked up by a big publisher, then rejected, then won awards and then was buried in a peat bog with my performance poetry career. I started to be a journalist here too, I wrote many, many articles on bad bands, bad comedians and bad theatre.
- The Tudor House in Wigan. I gave some spectacularly bad poetry here to an artist’s model. We recently became friends again and there was a moment she told me that she’d loved that poetry…but that she had lost it in a move several years ago. I was truly thankful. I also was published here for the first time in an anthology and on the walls of the pub’s toilet – both were crap.
- The corner of an abandoned yellow bedroom at university. I wrote some spectacularly bad avant-garde poetry here on a temperamental typewriter which I repeatedly threw into the hedge through the open window. The poetry ended up being turned into an equally bad play performed in a room upstairs at a pub that is no longer there. Whether the pub was bulldozed because of me and the poetry is hard to say.
- Under the stairs at the university library. This is when things got serious because I was surrounded by books. I know that sounds odd but it’s true. A writer should be a reader, if you’re not, fuck off.
- In a grotto, boarded up, forgotten and hidden beneath rhododendrons in a park in Leicester. This was not some sort of crack whore perversion at play. I became interested in forgotten spaces. I came from a town that was largely forgotten and that had a real underbelly of forgotten people. I have always been drawn to derelict, abandoned places and this reflected my love life at university. Go on, play the world’s tiniest violin.
- In a stone gazebo in Rivington. Blame poetry and too much bloody Coleridge. I wrote my first successful work here, the work that got me noticed but also got me out of the house because I was living with my parents again.
- My office at the old house. I wrote several film scripts here, a failed novel and a shed load of poetry (this is how we measure poetry, in out buildings. For example, ‘I have written a dog kennel load of poetry’, ‘I have written a tithe barn full of poetry’, ‘I have written a barn, a pig ark and bothy load of poetry’). I also started to write non-fiction around this time, which went beyond the journalism I had done at the Amstrad perched on the records.
- The top of the stairs at our old house. This came about when I could no longer get up to my office which was three floors up. Blame a bad back. It was the only place I could get comfortable and have easy access to the toilet, kitchen and the front door. These years are known as, ‘the crawling years’. This has nothing to do with my back but everything to do with writing television, film and theatre.
- The bed in our new house. Again, bad back but also the failure to hot desk with my wife. This bed has produced several short stories, a film, a novel and a son.
- My office overlooking the garden. Nothing has been written here yet but it has been dreamed of.
2. Most writers are creatures of habit, a form of superstition we all have. We all have ways of writing, sticking to schedules and more importantly getting on with the job. Now, having a space to ourselves means we can get on with that job without shouting at the people we love because they have moved something they shouldn’t have, like a half finished novel that they gave to a son to draw on (I made that one up but I know plenty of writers with children, whose work has been scrawled on and in one case turned into paper chains). It means I can have several drafts on the go, contained in one space that has no internet access.
3. A writing space affords me the chance to store things. I don’t mean archives of correspondence or notebooks or even books. They tend to sprawl around our house. I mean things that get me writing. Things I have found. Things you think are rubbish. I have filing cabinets and windowsills of things that I think have a story in them. I go round flea markets, car boots and shops picking up stuff that gets my interest. They have to have a place to live. I’d like to think I was alone in this but I know many a fine writer, writers like the late Ray Bradbury, who did exactly the same. There are stories in objects.
4. A writing space means silence. Ssssh!
5. A writing space means I can fill that silence be it with music or my own voice. Ian Rankin writes to music and Hanif Kureishi has written about it too. Other art forms impact on my writing. I live in an intertextual age. Reading aloud work is important to me, it’s like a performance for one and if it doesn’t get past me ear it’s not getting past your eyes. It’s been part of my practice for a long time and is probably why I mutter when I share my writing space with anyone else. I am known to be writing in my head when I drive, my wife catches me muttering, sometimes shrugging (I am emulating the narrative action) and that can be pretty damn disconcerting when doing 70mph down a motorway: ‘You okay?’, ‘Yeah, why?’, ‘You were muttering and having spasms’ (cue embarrassment and denial followed by an argument). Read your work aloud, you can’t do that in a coffee shop without the police being called.
6. A writing space is mine, it is an extension of my ego. We all have an ego. We all have our own space. I have seen writers spaces across the world and writers are naturally defensive or cautious of you entering them. These are not places of magic but they are deeply personal places, which is why I have been brave or foolhardy to have mine as open plan to the corridor but again this means I can hear the phone or the front door but this also means I can be seen, and that is pretty damn scary. I suspect I will just get a big screen.
7. A writing space doesn’t make you a writer. It affords you the space to work towards being one. This can be said of any writer at any stage. I am always working towards being the best I can be as a writer, and I am my strongest critic. My space allows me the chance to store work that will one day be finished or work that may never be finished. My space allows me to think, fart around or just read. A space to work in. It draws a line between my private life and my working life.
8. You all go to a place of work, a writing space is a place of work. Remember that.