I write in the loft at the top of the house – a warm, bright, white space, with only a few things on the walls and very little furniture (a desk, a chair and some bookshelves).
Every day, after I’ve had breakfast, I head up there, switch my computer on and go straight into Word before I can get too distracted by other things – Facebook, twitter, other people’s books, the view through the big window, what the neighbours are doing etc. I remember reading an article by David Mitchell in which he said he practically runs to his laptop every day and opens the file of his novel without asking himself whether he’s in the mood to work on it. Only when the words are on the screen is he safe. Up until that moment the possibility for diversions are endless. I know what he means and I try to follow his example.
In an attempt to avoid distraction, my desk faces a wall. I don’t think it would work that well for me if it was in front of the window – I can imagine all too well staring vacantly through the glass for most of the day. Besides my laptop, my desk has very few objects on it: three beautiful rocks I picked up from a beach on the west coast of Iona when I visited for research for Beyond the Sea, an old hurricane jar containing a candle, paper and pens, a dictionary, thesaurus and other research books in a pile. Other than that it’s empty. However, there is a notice board on the wall above my desk, full of notes, quotes, pictures – black and white and colour – and postcards; things which are meant to remind me, inspire me and occasionally console me as I write! There’s a beautiful poem up there called Parting by Taniguchi Buson. Simple yet very touching:
For me who go,
For you who stay –
But of everything on that board a black and white photo of my parents on the beach at Scarborough in 1960 is my favourite. I love it, faded and crinkled as it is, and the visible lines running across it only make me feel a greater sense of nostalgia. My dad is in the middle, my mum on the right.
Behind my desk are bookshelves containing the novels and short stories of some of my favourite writers: Haruki Murakami, Michel Faber, Jeanette Winterson, Banana Yoshimoto, to name but a few.
There are also a couple of overloaded shelves packed full of ‘to be read’ books. I try not to turn around and pick any of them up while I’m writing and generally I’m pretty good about it. But occasionally, if the words aren’t flowing too well, I might swivel round in my chair and accidentally find myself reading someone else’s words all day. No bad thing. As long as it doesn’t happen too often!