Monday, June 16, 2008

Desk Space

Following the sale of Dicken's desk the other day, Jane Sullivan in The Age meditates on our continuing fascination with the writer's desk. (How would you explain this vicarious interest?)

She mentions the ongoing series in The Writer's Room in The Guardian (not online - and I really hope there an eventual book) in which author's writing spaces are photographed :
Andrew O'Hagan is clearly proud of his desk's Dickensian connection: it used to belong to a Victorian lawyer's office in Doughty Street in London, next door to Dickens' place. O'Hagan has a "crazily tidy" room and he confesses to obsessive-compulsive tendencies: "Every day I write up the two or three biggest priorities on the blackboard, and, even if the tasks aren't completed, I wipe the board clean when I knock off."

Other writers are much messier. Clutter is the norm. Very few writers go in for state-of-the-art technology or cutting-edge design: most workspaces look like modest makeshift converted bedrooms or student rooms. They are crammed with books, family pictures, children's creations or mementoes of past triumphs that David Lodge describes as "ego salve". The authors often avoid PCs, bashing out their books on typewriters or getting down first drafts in longhand. There are quite a few huge, horrible chairs for bad backs. Some like a room with a view: others prefer a blank wall.

Colm Toibin thinks of his room as a cave: "I have left instructions that I would like to be buried here when I die or a bit before, the cave bricked up." His chair is one of the most uncomfortable ever made: "After a day's work, it causes pain in parts of the body you did not know existed. It keeps me awake."

Some writers don't have a designated workspace, or even a desk. A. L. Kennedy lies down on a monster black leather chair with her laptop in her lap, in a room the colour of blood.
The literary relic with the most resonance for her, she says is Henry Lawson's pen.


Anonymous said...

MIne is a wooden one handmade (and hand-painted) by a carpenter 30 years ago.

gnute said...

I love the Writer's Rooms section of The Guardian and always perv at it at the office. I think the room that stood out for me was one of the plainest ones, Adam Phillips'. It looks like a real work desk where one could focus, with no idyllic tree branches just outside the window.

Some other writer wrote that a writer's study is special because it is the one room in the house that one does not 'see'. Or something like that.