Every writer must have a space they can call their own when working. Roald Dahl had a shed at the bottom of the garden, and composed whilst sitting in an armchair with a board resting across the arms. J.K. Rowling began whilst sitting at a table in a café. Seamus Heaney – an attic room at home, with a board over two filing cabinets. Sebastian Faulks – overlooking a garden square with a picture of Tolstoy to inspire him. Me, like the characters in the C.S Lewis novel who stepped inside a wardrobe to discover Narnia, I opened up my wardrobe one day to find my very own writing place.
My space came about as I had previously tried to write in every room in the house, but couldn’t settle anywhere due to noise and people-traffic. The only quiet, and out-of-the-way, space was my bedroom at the end of our L-shaped bungalow. I had already been working in there for about a year, using a makeshift desk (also a board spread across two small chests of drawers) when I decided the room was in drastic need of refurbishment. A mahogany-coloured row of monstrous looking wardrobes, with top cupboards, took up all the space along an inside wall. But I soon realised if I ripped them out, as I had originally planned, I would have to take down the whole wall, then replace it. Too costly and too much upheaval for me.
So, one morning as I stood pontificating how to solve the problem, I suddenly had a flash of, what I think, was brilliant inspiration. I took off the wardrobe doors, lifted the fitted carpet to pull out the wardrobe bases, I then filled in all the holes and painted the whole thing pale grey. The process took me three weeks and three coats of paint, finishing off with a coat of clear matt varnish. I then volunteered hubby to build a desk and some shelves for my books before bringing in a professional decorator to finish the room. As you can see my space is by the window; mainly for light; and because it’s next to the radiator. On those very cold winter mornings I can roll out of bed, straight into my computer chair.
Unlike Faulks, who appears to get his inspiration from a classic Russian writer, I find inspiration in several things that are scattered around the back and sides of my space: one is a print of the painting above. It was painted in 1906 by Oscar Mattiesen. The original can be found in the Military Museum in Ystad where the 20′ by 12′ canvas covers a whole wall. When my eleven year old granddaughter first saw it she said you could see some of the men’s, “detail.” The soldiers, who were once garrisoned there, must have been pretty hardy as they were obliged to strip off every morning to take a bare-back ride through the icy cold waters of the Baltic Sea. Sounds like hell-week with the SAS to me as I’ve paddled in the Baltic, and boy was it cold. But what inspires me is these men did this for years, every morning, cleansing themselves and their horses in the icy cold sea, totally committed. So when I look at it it tells me I should never give up.
Sometimes, though, I will sit and look at the photograph of me, at the age of four years old, with my father at a seaside resort on the East Coast of England. As a lady never divulges her age – you might get some idea when you note the ancient car and caravan in the background – but, I can just about remember the austere decade after WWII. To date I have written three books set during and after WWII and this photograph jogs my memory to remember everyday things that perhaps normally I wouldn’t readily bring to mind, like smells and sounds. I become very nostalgic when I get a whiff of carbolic soap, or see a Dolly tub and mangle, or smell a coal fire.
Lastly, I bought this hologram of penguins in the Antartica when on holiday the other year. I love penguins and cold climates. I’m in my element when, or if, we get snow: but deep snow is a very hit-and-miss occurrence in this country. I was brought up in an era where central heating was only for the few – I like to keep warm but am intolerant of extreme heat. Even though I lived in Pakistan for a while, I coped with the heat as their buildings are constructed to keep them cool enough to live and work in, and it was their winter when I was there. But my one ambition is to visit the Arctic: see the North Pole. Whether or not I shall get there is another matter, so perhaps I should visit the second place on my to-do list: a visit to see Santa Claus in Lapland. But, if I ever do get to meet him, I won’t mention the fact I’ve eaten reindeer.
You might be left wondering which of the classic writers I would post in my space. It would undoubtedly be D. L. Lawrence. Not for the fact he came from the Nottinghamshire area, but for his character Oliver Mellors – the gamekeeper in Lady Chatterley’s Lover – who reminds me so much of my grandfather. I only have to read the dialogue in the book and it immediately brings my grandfather to mind. Like the character, Mellors, he too, used to speak with thee’s, thou’s, tha’s, and tha’rts, along with dropped H’s and D’s. Although my grandfather was a 6′ 2″ tough miner with big, rough, hands, he was also good at drawing and great at making short-crust pastry.
You see what being in my wardrobe does to me: it transports me into another time, another world.