Where I Write…
Even though the image of a writer working feverishly in a cold garret is probably one of literature’s biggest clichés, that’s pretty much how I’ve written my last four novels. I work in the attic, my desk under a skylight, at the top of a tall, thin, Victorian terraced house. If you’ve ever seen pictures of Bristol, with its colourful houses on the hill, you’ll know what I mean. Writing in the attic does have its downsides. For one thing, there’s no heating up here, so it gets very cold in the winter. Also, being four flights of stairs away from the bathroom, it’s never a good idea to wait until things get too desperate…
But for me, the positives far outweigh the negatives. I’ve always loved attics, the feeling of being high up, the slanted ceilings, the beams. I also love the light: good light is important to me. The first flat I lived in when I first moved to the city was undeniably dingy, and I was never happy there. But here, if I look up, all I can see is the sky and the edges of chimneystacks.
There’s also a railway track close to the house. It’s not a big one, and is mostly used by ponderous, never-ending freight trains. At first, I thought the noise was going to be a problem; the two-toned honk honk of train horns and the strange, syncopated clacking of wheels in the middle of the night. But I’ve come to enjoy those sounds too. They’re sounds of movement, of life, a reminder that outside my bubble of make-believe, the world is always turning.
At my desk I’m surrounded by piles of paper that I have yet to sort out, but can’t throw away for whatever vague reason. There are empty cups of coffee (I’m terrible for hoarding them: again, three flights of stairs to the kitchen), open notebooks and ratty pieces of paper, that have taken on the status of IMPORTANT because of some idea scrawled on them. I have maps and pages of notes pinned to the wooden beam in front of me. At the moment, those notes consist of timelines, quotes by Maya Angelou and Primo Levi, a reminder about the Musée des Arts Forains in Paris (?) and words METAL POTFIRE. Hopefully I’ll remember why that’s significant at some point.
There are also a lot of plants up here. I love having them about, and often find myself staring at them, thinking. It’s a running joke in the house that I don’t know
where to stop when it comes to plants, and it’s true, I’m running out of flat surfaces to put pots on.
To my right, I have shelves of books that are being slowly bleached by the sun (sorry books), and a print that my friend Arthur once made for me in exchange for cake. To my left, there are shelves of records, the steep, steep stairs down the floor below and a trapdoor I can close, to keep the rest of the world at bay, while I write.