Thursday, 18 June 2009


Does where you write determine the quality of your work? Certainly you need some quiet, a certain level of comfort, a few basic accoutrements. But can this be found just as easily at the top of an urban tower block as in a cabin in the New Forest? Is there inspiration to be found in the beauty of nature, or does it just distract?

Living in a city, I’ve learnt to filter out much of the clamour, and yet I’m being increasingly drawn to a more monastic method of writing. Perhaps I’m lured by friends’ and colleagues’ accounts of the solitude of writers’ retreats. The pictures on Tania Hershman’s blog, for example. Then there’s my friend’s friend, just back from a creative writing holiday (whatever that is) on a Greek island: ‘Sun, dappled shade, olive groves, turquoise sea, the gentle murmur of cicadas, the mellow tonking of goat bells, and the company of writers.’ (Yeah, I could cope with that, Si.)

I suppose it depends what you’re writing. Much of my novel is set on the wild slopes of Dartmoor, and I certainly visit there a lot, making notes, soaking up the flora and fauna. But then I come home and write about it to the sound of cars screeching by, neighbours making love or war, cats doing battle over a wheelie bin. Trains that I can hear even with my head under the bath water.

I thought writing was just sweat and graft that you could do anywhere. Perhaps it’s time to seek out some of what a Buddhist monk might term the sound of one hand clapping.

So, where do you write? And does it matter?


Tania Hershman said...

This is a topic that fascinates me. We are shortly moving to England from Israel not because I can't write in Israel, I think I can write anywhere, but because I don't have access to all the other writing-related "stuff" - a community of writers, teaching opportunities, readings, workshops, grants (!) - in Israel. And I'm here at the retreat not because I can't write anywhere else, but purely to free up time, time normally spent feeding the cats, feeding myself, thinking about feeding myself, talking to J, paying the bills, doing the washing up, having to socialise (!). I couldn't live like this all the time (a live-in housekeeper might be useful), but it is certainly kick-starting something, a momentum I know will take me to another place by the end of my week.

And... the "thing" I am working on right now, perhaps linked stories or something, has an Irish main character, so being in Ireland for a week or two I hope re-imbues the music of the language into my soul!

Julia Bohanna said...

It's a really interesting question, Tom. I like to write without distraction, hemmed in - preferably between four walls. Although I love open spaces, beautiful places, animals, the countryside....I have found that writing there has limited success and the writing produced is very very different from my 'inside' work. It drifts, basically. My brain seems to concentrate on the immediate elements around myself and flutters off in all directions...instead of my thoughts going inward and selecting the most relevant points.

I have an can fit seven people in there. But most of the time I put my laptop in my bedroom or balance it on my lap while sitting on the bed. It's ridiculous to waste that office space but there is something about being in a small space - almost straitjacketed by brick - that forces out the words.

Saying that, I walk to think and process, to snatch at titles that on a good day, come from nowhere. It is only the physical process, the discipline of actual writing, that requires this self-imposed prison.

andewallscametumblindown said...

Our garden, which used to be a wilderness, has recently been transformed into a wonderful piece of countryside within a town. I love to sit in it and write. And sometimes, a part of the garden appears in my writing. I can write anywhere - even on a bus - but I think the location has an effect on what I write. Interesting topic. ~Miriam

TOM J VOWLER said...

I know what you mean, Tania, about allocating a certain time to just write, which means taking oneself away from distraction. I have a rather quaint, somewhat pretentious notion of doing this fulltime, immersing myself in rural isolation, though sanity would be an issue.

That's what I wondered, Julia: that nature itself might be a distraction, causing the creative mind to wander and admire.

I have a garden too, Miriam. Well, a communal patio. I sometimes sit out there when the sirens from police cars have faded, and the gangster neighbours have resolved their drugs war. (I exaggerate, a little, for comic effect.)

Ad Lad said...

In my experience, a quiet room without distractions definitely contributes to quantity, but it doesn’t guarantee quality. Of my three favourite stories, one was written on a beach, one was written during a thirteen-hour bus journey, and one in my bed.

My lifestyle doesn’t allow me the option of waiting for the perfect location before writing. I have to make do with what I can. Otherwise location will just become another reason to vacillate. And I already have enough of those. I suppose what I’m saying is that a location conducive to writing is, for me, a luxury rather than a necessity.

That said, if some kindly benefactor is desperate to nurture my talent with the offer of a month long sojourn on a paradise island, please drop me a line!

Douglas Bruton said...

Just noticed that you are half way to your total for the novel... great stuff.

Have just started a 'novel kind of thing' myself... three weeks back or so... loving it... up to 20,000 ... but will be on a break for about two weeks now... away to Italy with the school and won't be taking the laptop with me.

Well done you, Tom.


TOM J VOWLER said...

Thanks, D.