For the first four novels of my career, I wrote in the living room. The computer was in the corner, and I’d type while keeping a vague eye on my young daughters, just to make sure no major mishaps occurred. When the first, and then the second, went to school, I stayed put because it seemed easier than sorting out a spare room that I didn’t really like, anyway.
Fast forward to six months ago and a bedroom swap for my youngest, and suddenly there’s a vacancy in the room I’d always said would be my study, should I ever need one. But do I? Need one, that is. I’ve become a novelist by writing in the living room, and, since I’m still not making enough money to live on novels alone, do I even deserve a separate writing space? Can I justify it to myself? Can I justify it to my family?
If the truth be told, I’m also wary. I remember reading that Stephen King wrote in the hub of his family home for the early years of his career, then, on achieving success, decamped to an office at the top of his house. The fact of being away from everyone made his writing stop and the drinking start. Did I really want to emulate that? The drinking part, not the success part, obviously. I’d sell my soul for a tenth of King’s sales! However, there are issues. The spare room is a massive bomb site of all of the ‘not sure what to do with it but think we’ll keep it anyway’ stuff in the house. I don’t know if the computer will survive a move upstairs, or, indeed if there are enough power sockets to accommodate everything I need up there. We’ll still need a place to dry the washing in the winter so for several months of the year I’ll be surrounded by damp pants and soggy T-shirts. But, underwear aside, the room does have the best view in the house, straight out to the woods and hills of Somerset.
Then, a couple of months ago, I poisoned my husband. Not intentionally, I hasten to add. It was the chicken that did it. He was off work for three weeks with campylobacter poisoning, but, barring a speedy need to be near a bathroom, he was still answering emails at his desk next to mine in the living room. Suddenly, having to work next to a man I’d been happily married to for sixteen years became the weirdest experience.
I felt self-conscious all the time, like I was I in his class and I wasn’t working hard enough. The decision was made; the spare room was mine! Four and a half books later, I moved into my own writing space.
Having an office for the first time is a bit like having your own bedroom as a teenager. I found myself planning out where the furniture would go, thinking about new curtains, a new carpet, the pictures on the walls, mentally stacking the shelves full of books I love…and filling the desk with stationery, of course! Now, apart from the carpet, which has had to wait because of a certain virus named corona, it’s pretty much how I want it to be.
So the question is, am I more productive? Was the move upstairs and away from the living room worth it? To be honest, I’m not sure yet. The view from the window is wonderful, and that distracts me quite a lot, and I do still get interrupted by the children, so it’s not quite the haven of peace and solitude I was anticipating (at least, not now we’re in lockdown). The dog still just about has enough space to flump down next to me, which is what he always used to do in my ‘writing in the living room’ days, and I have discovered I’m not actually as tidy as I thought I was in my own space! With book 6 beginning to bite, I do need to shift my focus away from the ‘idea’ of an office to actually working in one, but I think I’m getting there. All in all, it’s been a good move to help me separate out ‘work’ from ‘home’, as the boundaries were getting a little blurry, but, like everything, it’s going to take a bit of getting used to!
What are your experiences of home working? How have things changed for you during lockdown? Let me know in the comments!
Fay’s Top 10 workspace items!
Banker’s Lamp, circa 1989 – this is a family ‘antique’, snagged from my folks, and is perfect for those late night writing sessions!
‘Corvids of Britain’ print (Hazel Murray, artist) – I promised myself a lovely picture for the wall of my new workspace, and since I can ‘spot’ most of these from my window, it was a great choice!
Nightingale black net curtains – the room is south facing so I needed something to mitigate the light. These black nets from Amazon really fitted the bill (and continued the bird theme). My husband calls them my bordello curtains!
Bed in a Box – I might now have my office, but it’s also a guest room! This John Lewis bed in a box is a comfy place to sit as well as having a pull out bed inside for those occasions when someone stays over.
Crow pillow – something handy to keep my back supported during tricky drafts.
Top hat – bought on a whim, but a pretty adornment to the shelves. I was inspired to get one when I visited the Glastonbury Frost Fayre.
Vintage desk – another family heirloom, and a perfect spot for the computer!
A view – to me, the most important feature of this room, and the reason it finally became my office!
Sony headphones – to shut out the noise when a deadline’s looming or the children are driving me nuts.
Bookshelves – some inspiring reads, some authors to emulate, and some there just because they look SO pretty!