Saturday, 27 March 2010

Saturday's Writing Quotation Examination - Where do you Write?

Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling spent the second half of his life at Bateman's, his solid Jacobean home in the Weald which had been "untouched and unfaked" by Victorian "improvers". Each morning he went to his study to write or to pace up and down on his Indian rugs while he worked out the rhythms of his verses.

As he was short, he had his English walnut chair placed on blocks so that he could sit comfortably at his French walnut table. Around the blotter are cherished objects, a pewter ink pot, a tin box for pins, a lacquered canoe-shaped pen tray for the ink brushes he used to obliterate redundant words.

After lunch Kipling tramped across his fields, slashing at nettles with a walking stick, before returning to his study and sprawling on the oak day bed with a book. He described himself as a "hasty and gluttonous reader", and the bookcases (opposite and to the left of the windows) still contain the works of favourite authors such as Jane Austen and Walter Scott.

But intruders were usually discouraged by Carrie, Kipling's bossy and restrictive wife, whose portrait hangs above the fireplace. It was painted by another of the writer's cousins, Philip Burne-Jones, son of the pre-Raphaelite artist.

In a previous home, the house they built in Vermont, Carrie had installed her desk in an ante-room outside her husband's study. His room at Bateman's was not so physically protected, but the portrait is a reminder of her determination to keep him at work and under her control. Her attitude was mistaken as well as unnecessary. As PG Wodehouse observed, Kipling's work "depended on messing around and talking to people", but his wife "kept him rigidly excluded from the world". The study, beamed and beautiful as it is, was a bit of a prison.

Philip Hensher

I don't have a writing room, and don't want one. I've never written successfully at a desk - whenever anyone tries to give me a desk, it always fills up immediately with old bits of paper, and, after a week or two, I go back to writing on the end of the dining table, clearing it all up before dinner. Or, more often, just on the arm of the sofa.

This is the tatty old sofa in my sitting room in Topsham, in Devon, where I wrote most of my last novel, The Northern Clemency. I write in a hardbacked A4 notebook, usually with a rollerball pen or just an old black biro - text on the right-hand page, corrections and additions and aides-memoires on the left. You don't need a plug or a battery or anything like that, and if your pen runs out, then another one only costs 25p or something.

There are no disturbances - I don't have a phone there, or a computer, or a television. Nothing but a radio, really. I like to have a few pleasant objects around me, without ever really wanting to aspire to the Room Beautiful. There are some of Charlotte Jones's lovely ceramics, some Darfur amulets and an 18th-century Rajput miniature. That hanging on the back wall is a batik rendering of the Bengali delta, where my partner Zaved comes from - he's not that bothered about it as an object, but I can look at it for hours. The carpet he acquired in Afghanistan during the Taliban time - there's a terrifying stain on it, which I always tell visitors is blood, but I think it might really be red wine after some NGO party. Is it Baluchi? I can never remember these things.

I just find it easier to sit and stare and think, then reach for the pad and start writing in a setting like this, which is just like a space for living in. I know perfectly well that if I ever found myself with a grand study with a view over the trees - if I ever started retiring to my study after breakfast to perform my daily 1,000 words - that would be the end of it. A sofa, a notebook, and the promise to yourself that in a couple of hours you can put Radio 4 on - that's just the ticket.

Jane Austen

Not long before her death, Jane Austen described her writing as being done with a fine brush on a "little bit (not two inches wide) of ivory". Her novels are not miniatures, but she did work on a surface not so much bigger than those two imagined inches of ivory. This fragile 12-sided piece of walnut on a single tripod must be the smallest table ever used by a writer, and it is where she established herself as a writer after a long period of silence. Her early novels had been written upstairs in her father's Hampshire rectory, and remained unpublished when the family moved to Bath in 1800, where writing became almost impossible for her. Only in 1809, when she returned to Hampshire and settled in the cottage on the Chawton estate of her brother Edward, could she devote herself to her work again.

Chawton Cottage was a household of ladies - Mrs Austen, her daughters and their friend Martha Lloyd - all taking part in the work of the house and garden. But Jane was allowed private time. Having no room of her own, she established herself near the little-used front door, and here "she wrote upon small sheets of paper which could easily be put away, or covered with a piece of blotting paper". A creaking swing door gave her warning when anyone was coming, and she refused to have the creak remedied.

From this table the revised manuscripts of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice went to London to be published in 1811 and 1813. From this table too came Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion. Here she noted down the encouraging comments of neighbours - Mrs Bramston of Oakley Hall, who thought S&S and P&P "downright nonsense", and "dear Mrs Digweed" who volunteered that "if she had not known the author, she could hardly have got through Emma".

Austen died in 1817, and after Cassandra's death in 1845 the table was given to a manservant. Today, back in its old home, it speaks to every visitor of the modesty of genius.

Michael Morpurgo

I used to write longhand at a table in any room, anywhere so long as it was quiet. But I found that the more intensely I wrote, as the grip tightened on the pen, the smaller the writing became and the more my wrist and arm and shoulder began to ache.

One evening I asked my neighbour and friend Ted Hughes how he wrote. He said he'd had some trouble and now wrote standing up at a lectern. What's good enough for Ted Hughes, I thought ... so I tried it, but my feet hurt.

I was reading a biography of my great hero-writer Robert Louis Stevenson and discovered a photograph of him towards the end of his life, lying on his bed in Samoa, propped up on a pile of pillows, a writing book resting on his drawn-up knees. So that's how you write Treasure Island, I thought. I went up to my bedroom, piled up all the pillows I could find and began to write. Everything was supported and relaxed. It was wonderful for dreaming up a tale, weaving it inside my head, wonderful for scribbling in an exercise book. (I still don't use a word processor. I did try. I lost five chapters seven or eight years ago, probably the best chapters I ever wrote. They're still floating around up there in the ether.)

For many years, I wrote on our bed in the house. But there were complaints about ink on the sheets, dirty feet on the bed, and we felt we should try to create somewhere else, a storyteller's house. Clare, my wife designed it - it's based on the Anglo-Saxon chapel of St Peter-Ad-Murum at Bradwell-juxta-Mare in Essex, where I grew up, but it has a Devon thatched roof, a Japanese garden and an uninterrupted view of the countryside, looking towards Dartmoor.

So there I have made my writing bed. With flowers in the window - these a gift for our 46th wedding anniversary last weekend - and with Clare sitting at the computer, trying to make sense of my scribbly script as she types it up, it has become a perfect writer's hideaway.

Louis de Bernières

Anyone who works at home needs a refuge from the rest of the household, as far from the house as possible, and definitely without a phone. Mine is in one corner of the garden, overlooking a vegetable patch and young orchard, and I feel great happiness in it. I am hassled only by the cat - a catflap would reduce the inconvenience.

I installed a solar panel behind the shed, which supplies two enormous 12-volt batteries wired in parallel. The lights run off the 12 volts, but I have a magic box that converts it to 220 for my laptop and my little low-fi, with another that stops the current from reversing and discharging into the panel. I did this all myself, and was amazed at how much I remembered from physics classes at school with Mr Milner. Heating is by gas bottle and caravan heater - I got all my gadgetry from a caravan park near Great Yarmouth. I have to empty earwigs out of the lights and fittings, and spiders thrive even though I completely sealed the building with silicon bathroom sealant. Out of sight are a camping stove for brewing up tea, a music stand, a box full of croquet mallets and hoops, a CD rack and a bookshelf for reference books.

The clock is for reminding me how little time there is before lunch. The chair, inherited from my grandfather, has had my backside in it as I wrote all my novels. It is so comfortable that the cushion is superfluous. The table is from a junk shop. I like to write to music, hence the low-fi and CDs. I make notes and write poetry in longhand, in notebooks. The paraphernalia on the table concern a play I was writing about Handel, except for the dried-up daisies, which are the remains of a daisy chain that my son Robin made for me when he was three.

It is nice to look up and see the pheasants strutting about outside, but the best thing about the shed is its absolutely quintessential smell of sheds.

Source: Writer's Rooms

Recently, I won the Silver Lining Award and I have to give it to other worthy bloggers. It's so difficult to find bloggers without these awards but anyone who commented on my post yesterday that doesn't have the award, gets one. Here goes:

1) Jaydee Morgan
2)Carol at Under the Tiki Hut
3)I don't know if Laura accepts awards but Women of Mystery
4)Audrey at holes in my brain
5) Multicoloured Imagery
6) Confessions of a Mystery Novelist
7) Talli Roland
8) Journaling Woman

Also, Harley from Labotomy of a Writer gave me the sunshine award. She's a new blogger and I'm sure would love your support. Check her blog out!

And, Nicole from One Significant Moment at a Time gave me the Creative Writer Award. Thank you and be sure to check out her blog, everyone.


Mason Canyon said...

Congratulations on the awards. Enjoyed the post. Interesting to see where authors enjoy writing.

Ann Elle Altman said...

Mason, thank you. I'm glad you find it interesting.


Jan Morrison said...

Oh, I love this! I have a book on author's houses - American authors. I would tell you the title but I loaned it to a writer pal of mine. It is heavenly to sit with it and imagine them in their spaces.
I write in my home office which is painted deep yellow and flower pot orange. I have two desks or a desk and a table, two bookshelves and stuff for all sorts of things I do - wool baskets and easels and photo stuff and my accordion. I have two windows, one looks out on the front yard where I can spy my chickens foraging and the other on the boring old driveway. Out of both I can see trees which are essential for my writing life! On the walls, I have lots of calendars and maps and photos and 'significant pictures' and rejection letters. I have piles of books on my desk - writing books, dictionaries and old journals. I love my space even when, like today, it needs a good de-cluttering.

Talli Roland said...

Thanks so much for the award! Yay!

I love that Writer's Rooms feature in the Guardian. There's something so fascinating about where people write. I'm a bit dull; I write in my office, at my desk. That's it! I'm a creature of habit.

Hope you're having a great weekend.

Christi Goddard said...

I loved reading this. Just yesterday I was thinking of posting a picture of my writing space for my followers. It's like you read my mind! My desk is a MESS. And if it's not a mess, I get all confused and can't concentrate. It's an enigma.

Jaydee Morgan said...

I also found all these writing spaces and their stories very interesting. My own writing space seems to move throughout the house. I'm actually looking forward to summer when I can sit on the deck and write outside.

And thanks for the award mention.

Ann Elle Altman said...

Jan, I love the color of yellow and orange! Your room sounds heavenly. Do you have a photo of it on your blog?

Talli, your welcome. I write in my bedroom as far away from my husband's home office as I can get.

Christi, I would love to see a picture of your writing space. We should all post our writing space photos.

Jaydee, writing outside, that sounds like a marvelous idea!


Nishant said...

thank you. I'm glad you find it interesting.
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