24 August 2009

writers' rooms

The Guardian's Books section is one of the best sites ever for checking out what's new in the book scene and for reliable book reviews. One of my favorite subsections here is Writers' Rooms, (a pretty much self-explanatory title) which gives mere mortals like me some insights on where and how these writers work.

Showing here the rooms of writers I read:

George Bernard Shaw. I would have expected Shaw to have a grander-looking room; this little country house tool shed-like room seems a little out of character. But whatever floats his boat, right?

Mark Haddon. The room's quite messy but it seems to match the owner's playful writing style.

Roald Dahl. I will forever be in love with Roald Dahl's books. They are a big part of my childhood. I got my little sister (who's 10 years younger than me) hooked into reading at a young age when I insisted that she start on Roald Dahl. His books are very much a part of our little family library. I like how he keeps certain memorabilia on his desk--probably to serve as inspiration? Here's an excerpt on the feature on his room, which was written by his illustrator (could it be Quentin Blake??):
I didn't go into the shed very often, because the whole point of it as far as Roald was concerned was that it was private, a sanctuary where he could work where no one interrupted him. The whole of the inside was organised as a place for writing: so the old wing-back chair had part of the back burrowed out to make it more comfortable; he had a sleeping bag that he put his legs in when it was cold and a footstool to rest them on; he had a very characteristic Roald arrangement for a writing table with a bar across the arms of the chair and a cardboard tube that altered the angle of the board on which he wrote. As he didn't want to move from his chair everything was within reach. He wrote on yellow legal paper with his favourite kind of pencils; he started off with a handful of them ready sharpened. He used to smoke and there is an ashtray with cigarette butts preserved to this day.

The table near to his right hand had all kinds of strange memorabilia on it, one of which was part of his own hip bone that had been removed; another was a ball of silver paper that he'd collected from bars of chocolate since he was a young man and it had gradually increased in size. There were various other things that had been sent to him by fans or schoolchildren.

On the wall were letters from schools, and photographs of his family. The three or four strips of paper behind his head were bookmarks, which I had drawn. He kept the curtains closed so that nothing from outside came in to interfere with the story that he was imagining. He went into the shed in the morning and wrote until lunchtime. He didn't write in the afternoon, but went back later to edit what he'd done after it had been typed out by his secretary.

He wrote in the shed as long as I knew him - we worked together for 15 years from 1975 to 1990 and I illustrated a dozen of his books. I would take my drawings down to Gipsy House for him to look at while sitting on the sofa in the dining room. I don't think he let anybody in the shed.

And here's a nice write-up on his wife, Felicity Dahl, who talks about her 7-year-marriage with the beloved children's writer.

Louis de Bernieres. Birds Without Wings is my favorite among his books. Still looking for his novels Red Dog and Labels, as they are pretty hard to find here in Manila. His shed-slash-writing room is as quaint as the settings in his novels.

Martin Amis. A really nice room for writing. It looks like something I'd like to have for myself. Well, not for professional writing, but mostly just a place where I can keep my books and spend some quiet time by myself. The skylight is a nice touch. One can always look up when bored or stuck in a writing rut.

Jane Austen. The winner in the entire series, in my opinion. She wrote most of her novels in this table, which actually has the size of a side table. Just goes to show one doesn't have to have all that writing space and ambiance to be a brilliant writer.

Here's the full text from The Guardian feature on her writing space:
Not long before her death, Jane Austen described her writing as being done with a fine brush on a "little bit (not two inches wide) of ivory". Her novels are not miniatures, but she did work on a surface not so much bigger than those two imagined inches of ivory. This fragile 12-sided piece of walnut on a single tripod must be the smallest table ever used by a writer, and it is where she established herself as a writer after a long period of silence. Her early novels had been written upstairs in her father's Hampshire rectory, and remained unpublished when the family moved to Bath in 1800, where writing became almost impossible for her. Only in 1809, when she returned to Hampshire and settled in the cottage on the Chawton estate of her brother Edward, could she devote herself to her work again.

Chawton Cottage was a household of ladies - Mrs Austen, her daughters and their friend Martha Lloyd - all taking part in the work of the house and garden. But Jane was allowed private time. Having no room of her own, she established herself near the little-used front door, and here "she wrote upon small sheets of paper which could easily be put away, or covered with a piece of blotting paper". A creaking swing door gave her warning when anyone was coming, and she refused to have the creak remedied.

From this table the revised manuscripts of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice went to London to be published in 1811 and 1813. From this table too came Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion. Here she noted down the encouraging comments of neighbours - Mrs Bramston of Oakley Hall, who thought S&S and P&P "downright nonsense", and "dear Mrs Digweed" who volunteered that "if she had not known the author, she could hardly have got through Emma".

Austen died in 1817, and after Cassandra's death in 1845 the table was given to a manservant. Today, back in its old home, it speaks to every visitor of the modesty of genius.


  1. thanks for sharing this, gins! great to see different writing spaces. inspiring.

    nice new blog look too. profeysyonal! naks naman! haha.

  2. It would be great to read and write in a room that has a good view. A lot of green scenery and the like. Unfortunately, in smog-filled Makati, I'm hard-pressed to have a nice space and view. Haha. Maybe someday...

    Re, the new blog look--well, I just downloaded this third-party template from some cool design site and just tweaked the colors and elements a bit. A lot of good templates pala out there! =)

  3. i agree! i wish i had a really big garden. i love our veranda but to have some privacy in our compound, i had to hang a fabric screen. no view din naman except the sky but if i remove the fabric screen, ako na ang view ng neighbors. hahaha!

    ang tiyaga mo maghanap ng stuff na yan ha. i'm not net-savvy talaga. or tamad mag-explore.

  4. Here's hoping we have rooms with real views someday! =)