Saturday 15 June 2019

Seeking spaces for stories - by Rowena House

Writers often talk about their special writing places. For me, in recent years, it’s been our kitchen table, much to my husband’s chagrin, since my research books and notebooks and scrolls of mind-mapping paper do rather spread.

After I broke my leg in February, he gave up dropping hints about the desk upstairs, and rearranged the kitchen to make me a writing snug in one corner. It’s an old-fashioned, winged arm-chair, with a small angled desk, and a large footrest so I can type with my leg raised and still see the garden, the wild birds and our ash trees coming into leaf.

I love this Dahl-esque snug. It’s near the kettle and biscuit barrel, and close enough to the dog’s day bed that I can see him snoozing, and he can sniff me sneaking a biscuit, which I always intended to share. Honest.

Now that the leg is healing, I’m wondering whether to stage a sit-in here, and write another book (paid work permitting). But another bit of me hankers after a retreat, somewhere wild and remote: a place to wander into new mental spaces.

Once I met a writer who lived in safari camp in the Maasi Mara National Reserve, in Kenya, paying his rent by giving talks in the evening. Just imagine! After reading Jack London, I used to fantasize about spending a winter snowed up somewhere in the Canadian wilderness, in a log cabin with a fire blazing, and bears and wolves outside.

Author friend Liz McWhirter, of Black Snow Falling fame, has such tempting tales of her retreat on the Isle of Iona, and also Moniack Mhor. Applying for a month’s retreat at Hawthornden Castle in Midlothian has been on my to-do list for years.  

As a journalist, I had to be able to write anywhere: a telex room, a corner desk of a local Reuter’s office, or some soulless conference hotel bedroom. On a gap year, I wrote in bars and caf├ęs in Africa and Latin America. I’d find one in each place I stopped, and go there night after night until the regulars “adopted” me as their resident writer, and the kids or drunks stopped hassling me.

I’ve still got all the scraps of description I scribbled that year on wine-stained napkins and receipts: the sounds of a tropical storm under a straining bamboo thatch, with the palm trees bent to the ground outside; sea-thoughts while wildlife watching on a brigandine schooner off the Galapagos Islands; air mail letters and postcards which, for some long-forgotten reason, I never sent.

They’re all in box files in the spare bedroom: notes from another century.

Recently, my dad gave me another box file with the letters and cards I sent to him and Mum, a treasure trove to add to my collection of letters and notes she sent to me.

Now that our son is about to embark on university, I’m wondering if it’s time to open these boxes and look back to find my next story, or should one always move on?

Advice welcome!


Anne Booth said...

I am sorry about your leg, Rowena. I don't know how I missed that news. I love your description of your writing corner, and I think it is an amazing gift that you have such a complete record of your letters to and from your parents. How amazing!

Anne Booth said...

P.S. Open those boxes!

Rowena House said...

I think you're right, Anne! Though I have just started a historical story that's been nagging me quietly for ages. Who knows, maybe there's time enough and the space for both. x