Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Where Do You Do It? - Karen Ball


Come on, don't be shy. Okay, I'll go first. Here are some of the places I've done it:
  • On a train.
  • Beside the Thames.
  • At my parents' house.
  • Beneath the stairs.
  • In the back garden.
  • Surrounded by strangers at St Pancras International.
Interestingly, never in a library. I'm talking about writing, of course. I hear lots of stories and I've seen the pictures: of people writing from a sleeping bag, in their sheds, from cafes around the world and on planes. The Weekend Guardian ran a fantastic series, photographing authors' studies. How I envied each and every one of those rooms! The interesting piece of furniture from a far-flung part of the world. The letter from a famous friend. The rows of foreign editions. Why did no one have a wobbly IKEA bookshelf, a fluffly blue pen with a butterfly on the end or - as in my particular case - a little pile of make-up brushes in a chipped whisky glass? I take comfort from the fact that I don't need a room of my own, I can write anywhere. All I need is a pen and paper ... ah, here's the rub. I don't think I could write longhand if you paid me lots and lots of money. I left that talent behind at university and even then it was giving me wrist ache. So all I need is a power point, a netbook, a wireless mouse (keeping up?), a notebook, a pen, a table, a kindly waitress... But most of these things I can find. And I do.

Writing is one of the most portable activities there is. But do these different venues affect my writing? I recently turned up at a day retreat, battling through rain, and immediately hated the new venue. I spent a day making my main character really, really angry. My attempts to write at the Starbucks in St Pancras were sensationally disastrous. All those other people milling around, looking a bit lost and forlorn, on their way somewhere but not there yet? Every word I wrote at that venue was equally lost and may as well have been ripped up and used for confetti. But I've had successes too. I once sat in my back garden and gazed up from my empty laptop screen to the blue flowers at the base of the cherry tree. Inspiration! A few hours later I'd completed a short story that - yes! - would be published. And I love writing on trains, if not at train stations.

Daphne du Maurier famously wrote 'Rebecca' whilst living in Egypt. Egypt! Her novel drips Cornish beauty: the shoreline, that house, those storms. Could Emily Bronte have written about the dark passions of 'Wuthering Heights' if she'd been holed up in leafy Surrey? (I grew up amongst the Derbyshire moors. When visiting Surrey for the first time as a naive 20-year-old I looked around and declared, 'But it's so ... green.' Made my boyfriend's mum laugh a lot. I never did like her.)

Sorry, I'm getting distracted. Venues. In 1930s Egypt, Daphne du Maurier's imagination yearned for the coasts of Cornwall and she evoked them brilliantly in her novel. I suspect locations matter just as much or as little as you allow them to. It's your imagination that counts and I've discovered that once you're visiting that part of your brain, the rest of the world can go whistle. You're oblivious.

Please visit my website at www.karen-ball.com.

14 comments:

bookwitch said...

Thought you were going to claim to have written in the 1930s!

Penny Dolan said...

Nice post, Karen. Well, unless the rest of the world does come and whistle beside you, or at least a noisy part of it. Some cafes feel just right while others are intrusive and awful - perhaps it's the actual acoustics of the venue?

Have found trains excellent for "thinking writing" times - sorting out problem plots and so on - but need space and elbow room for real page-filling.

Julie P said...

I write anywhere I can, Karen! But I'd love to find some new and interesting places to write - go on a tour, maybe!!

But I'm desperate for my own study to keep all my writing stuff in one room. At the mo I have a corner of the living room and my books are in the bedroom.
Julie xx

Brian Keaney said...

In my head

Andrew Strong said...

I took my laptop to Portugal, thinking I could write on the beach. Impossible. Reasons: 1. always far too bright to see the screen 2. dogs snorting in my ear 3. insects 4. sand in between the keys (they still crack like knuckles when I write on the thing) and, of course, 5. the sea, the cafes, life itself. Writing can only be done in dull places with no distractions.

Katherine Roberts said...

I wrote two tiny stories for my Magical Horses book in my car while waiting for the breakdown truck after my battery shorted out. A couple of hours stranded down a deserted country lane... never could a girl wish for a more peaceful location.

Yes, I agree that once you get deep into the story everything else fades. But I think environment can affect how easily you enter and are able to remain in that state. It's fatal to write in the same room as a computer connected to the internet...

Katherine Langrish said...

Have to say I do like a room of my own, with a door I can shut. Don't thinki I could ever write in a public space, other than notes. But happiest writing ever, on an A4 block balanced on my knees, on a flowery bank in springtime, surrounded by celandines and lambs, when I was about 13.

Leslie Wilson said...

Your desk is very tidy, compared to mine!

Leslie

OfficeGirl said...

You're left handed? And is that an apple in the middle?

both, very interesting!

karen ball said...

Yes, I am left handed! And correct, that's a rather large apple. Is my desk tidy? I seem to be constantly shuffling piles of paper around. Fab comments everyone!

Gillian Philip said...

I'm supposed to have a study but I never use it - it's cold and I get lonely and it's too quiet and... So I write anywhere around the house, sometimes standing up. And Katherine R is dead right, an internet connection is fatal.

But that is fascinating about Daphne du Maurier. I could never write about Scotland (convincingly) when I lived in the tropics. I was hopeless at it.

And oh I'd LOVE to be able to write on trains. I always plan to. But it never works. I end up reading a book or a newspaper, listening to my iPod and watching the landscape, or playing solitaire on the laptop I'm meant to be working on. One day I WILL get the habit!

What a great post - really got me thinking!

Damian Harvey said...

I have a writing shed - as much due to necessity as anything else. Due to a lack of space, three teenage daughters and a wife working in school, all chances of writing stopped during the school holidays. I haven't spent much time in there recently though as it's not heated yet. Hopefully that will change in time for next winter.

Stroppy Author said...

I'm lucky enough to have a room of my own to write in, with added roof garden for the summer, but I still like writing in cafes, libraries, on trains.... anywhere else.

I can understand you not being able to write about Scotland when in the tropics, Gillian. I went to the hills north of Rome to finish a novel set in Venice and just couldn't do it - too dry and open! I wrote something set in southern England during a climate-changed hot future instead (Rising Tide) - planned on Eurostar and written in a hot monastery garden with many insect bites as penance. I also wrote a lot about mermaids sitting by a fountain that had an eel in it....

madwippitt said...

yes, it's very tidy ...
are you sure you're not tidying and dusting instead of writing? :-D