Wednesday 11 September 2019

How to support a writer - Kelly McCaughrain

As further evidence that I am in fact living in some sort of benign Truman Show, to cap my incredible book-year, just last month I was awarded the role of Children’s Writing Fellow for Northern Ireland!

This two-year role was created by the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queens University Belfast and the Arts Council Northern Ireland to promote children’s reading and writing, and I think it’s a fantastic recognition of how important Kids’ Lit is. 

The best part is I get to spend two years talking about creativity, hanging out with young writers, and working on my own writing as well! 

I’m still working out my plans and finding out about all the exciting things I get to be involved in. When things are more definite, I will be blogging all about it (I will be blogging the hell out of this adventure).

Until then, can I just take this opportunity to talk about the writing part? Specifically writing spaces.

I’d like to point out that I now, for the first time in my entire life, have my own office! OK, in the grand scheme of things this may seem like a tiny detail but actually I’m starting to realise that it’s not

So far in my life, my working environments have consisted of:

  • A cinema kiosk
  • Poundstretcher shop floor
  • Xtra-vision counter
  • Back room of a bank
  • Charity shop
  • Open plan admin pool where I shared a computer AND A CHAIR
And my writing environments have consisted of:

  • Dining room table
  • Kitchen table
  • Sofa
  • Garden table
  • Greenhouse
  • Bed

For the last 20 years I’ve been a note taker for adult students with special needs. This means sitting in the corners of various classrooms trying to be as invisible as possible. I have no co-workers. I once got in a lift with my boss and didn’t recognise her.

In none of my jobs have I ever had so much as a coat hook to call my own, let alone a parking space, a locker, a computer, a kitchen, a drawer, a desk, or a door I could close. I’ve had a very nomadic working life. I’m a zen master in the art of packing a rucksack (never a shoulder bag, you gotta balance that weight evenly), making packed lunches, wearing the correct number of layers to ensure optimum body temperature no matter the environment, footwear you can spend a whole (rainy) day in, portable technology, and I have a thermal mug that will keep tea hot for about a month.

Basically me

I suspect many full-time writers endure similar conditions since they’re probably earning a living by hauling their butts around schools and libraries. I never thought about it much, I just occasionally daydreamed about being able to go to the bathroom without taking all my possessions with me.

But suddenly… I have my very own office. And it occurs to me that the Room of One’s Own isn’t just the fantasy of writers anymore, it’s probably a luxury for most people these days. Most desk-workers work in open-plan spaces. Privacy is a definite luxury.

But my office is in the Seamus Heaney Centre at QUB, a place dedicated to writing, and where they understand that asking writers to share an open-plan office would be like asking hermits to flat-share.

I’m used to writing in my garden. Rain, hail or shine I can spend ten straight hours sitting outdoors until I’m dragged in to go to bed (and I’ve found myself looking thoughtfully at the hammock at 11pm). Can I write in a small, skylighted, third-floor office?

Moving day!

Well, I’m giving it a go. I do feel slightly like feral cat that someone’s trying to tame but it could grow on me. And it’s so nice to be able to leave things there overnight! This is a revelation. It may not seem like much but it’s a little bit like having a home after twenty years of homelessness. In an occupational sense.

And the peace. The lack of distraction. Being able to take time off my paid work to do this. That’s the real miracle.

I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me that having my own office would be so important. I am passionate about the idea that kids need to be given time and space and freedom to be creative (in fact, that’s exactly what I’m going to focus the first year of the fellowship on). The Seamus Heaney Centre and the Arts Council have given me exactly that – two years, office space, no restrictions or conditions. This is how you support a writer. 

Needs more books

My little office in the Seamus Heaney Centre is not just a room, it’s a symbol of all that support. And I’m so very happy and grateful. 


Kelly McCaughrain is the author of the Children's Books Ireland Book of the Year,

She is the Children's Writing Fellow for Northern Ireland #CWFNI



Sue Purkiss said...

Lovely! I remember being similarly delighted when I was an RLF fellow and had my own room - I brought in postcards and pictures, a new mug, a plant... oh, there was no end to it. Congratulations on your new job!

Kelly McCaughrain said...

Thanks Sue, it really is lovely! Doesn't take much to make us happy, does it!

Joan Lennon said...

Sounds like a great initiative - so good to hear some positive news!

Jacqui McVeigh said...

Fantastic Kelly. Enjoy

Penny Dolan said...

Have a very happy time in your very own room! And I'm sure "your" many young writers will have a very happy time with you too, wherever you're meeting them.

What a great initiative!

Rowena House said...

Love good news stories like this! Have a blast.

Kelly McCaughrain said...

Thanks guys! Feels good to be a good news story!

Anne Booth said...


Morna said...

Good luck in your new role!