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Wednesday, 11 January 2012

What Does Where You Write Say About You? by Dan Holloway

It's one of those things that seems to fill endless feature columns in Sunday papers but whether we're readers or writers, we still never really get tired of this particular kind of nosiness. So I thought I'd take this New Year's chance (I say that, but the actual reason I chose New Year is that it's the only hope you'll ever have of my study being tidy enough to be pictured) to ask where people write, and take you on a little tour of my space.


There's more to where we write than you might think. Our writing spaces say a lot about us. This is mine. Sort of. Where I do my most productive writing is actually on a pavement on a busy street with my back against the wall watching the people go by. But I rarely have the opportunity for that, so this is where it happens.


So. What does it say about me. Well, first off you'll notice the magnolia paint. Which can mean only one thing. We're not homeowners. With my credit history and a job in the south of England, that's not going to happen. I'm not quite sure how anyone in our neck of the woods does own a house. So. Magnolia it is. Second, I'm lucky enough to have a space where I can write. That hadn't been the intention. We chose our house (I should point out that we always knew we were renting for th elong term. We each came to our current house with two large Pickford vans full largely of books. Moving is a once or twice in a lifetime thing) because we had intended to have bedrooms to put our children. Sadly, we were never able to have children. So they remain our studies.
Zooming in on the detail, then. Well, the dictionaries are de rigueur (and a proud memento from managing to clock up 5 wins on Countdown in the 90s), the beautiful marble slab a leftover from my days in the flooring trade, the pudding wine bottles a hint at a theme that runs through all my books (the smallest of them is Tokai Eszencia, the sublime substance at the heart of my two best-selling books). The postcards are there to provide inspiration and blend my twin passions of French 60s philosophy and early 20th century art (my netbook is sitting on a cloth mat from Giverny, based on the fabrics in Monet's kitchen).


And then there's the actual hub, pictured above. My netbook comes complete with a skin (from the fabulous Skinit) of the cover of my book The Company of Fellows - given that I do much of my writing in coffee shops, on the pavement and on the bus, this is a fabulous subliminal way of getting the title into people's heads - if you have a hi-res picture of your cover I'd really recommend it - they come perfectly sized for most makes of computer and smartphone - and, of course, Kindle (you'll also see on the dictionaries my moo card boxes - the most fabulous way to get your cards made).
But pride of place, as a thriller writer, goes to my metal netbook rest, a present from my wife -about the best present I've ever had - a genuine intended-for-use-at-crime-scenes stepping plate, the kind you see on all those forensic dramas. What could be more inspirational for someone who writes thrilers?


But there's more to a writing space than, er, the space you write. I have about 1000 books in my study, but they're arranged very carefully (they have to be - the room's 8'x6' and has 3 desks and 2 filing cabinets!) - the top near shelf is where I keep my top favourites, the books I go back to again and again. Some of the books will be no surprise - lots of Murakami, Kundera, Houellebecq, Bolano, and Banana Yoshimoto. There's also a smattering of BEat - a Ginsberg, a Ferlinghetti and a Kerouac. Two devastating and breathlessly brilliant French books, Betty Blue and Breathing Underwater, and one of the best psychological literary thrillers you'll ever read, Josephine Hart's Damage. Underneath you'll catch a glimpse of the "almost pride of place" where things like a prized ARC of Tom McCarthy's "C" nestle.


This is what goes on behind the writing desk. The holding bay. It's full of things that have associations, memories, things that inspire me when my mind goes blank (as well as having my absolute favourite book of 2010, Patti Smith's Just Kids). The table comes from my parents, and it's covered with things brought back from a period when my wife and I visited 23 countries in a single year at the height of the budget travel boom - there are speciality liqueurs from Eastern Europe, a leather-bound journal from Florence, perfume from Egypt, a lavender bag from Arles, stone from Sicily, burred wood from Marrakech (oh, and, um, yes, that *is* a Twilight mug).


And that upright storage unit came from Woolworth's, for 25p when they were selling off all their fixtures and fittings. I use it to store tickets and programmes from all the rock gigs we've ever been to. And another prized possession - an original bookstore poster of Thomas Pynchon's Vineland from the book's initial release back in the 80s.





OK, the netbook skin already gave away that I love customised things. I also love comfy clothes, and nothing's quite so comfy as a really fleecy hoodie (which I keep in my study because it's the one room in the house where the heating is never on, for the very good reason that I keep my pudding wine under one of the desks, and storing that at optimal temperature is way more important than a bit of frostbite). So I have a hoodie with some lines of my poetry on the front and my personal web address on the back!


There. I hope that's sated the nosiness! What about you? What does your writing space say about you?

That poster isn't in my study, but it is the poster for a night of poetry and prose I'm running in Manchester on January 23rd to which you are all warmly invited . You can click the poster or here for full details but we have some fabulous entertainers and award-winning writers. and it's free.

Dan Holloway
my new random musings, pics, poems, and videos can be found here

22 comments:

JO said...

In the summer - I write in a semi-basement room that might once have been a dining room, with a view of the garden. Dictionaries behind me, papers all over the table, the floor, the chairs ...

And in the winter - I light the woodburner, which is upstairs, and sit by the fire with my laptop on my knee. When visitors come, books and papers are downloaded to the floor. (Not too much hoovering in my house!)

Dan Holloway said...

I didn't show pictures of the floor for very good reason, Jo! A good solid floor-based filing system beats any number of cabinets :)

Kathleen Jones said...

A really interesting tour round your space Dan! My room at home is a bit similar - stuffed full of things and books, with just space to get to the desk. Here in Italy I don't have dedicated space - a table in the bedroom, or out on the terrace if the weather's fine enough. I'm learning to work anywhere.

Dan Holloway said...

that's the thing to aim for, isn't it? To make one's most comforting environment something internal.

madwippitt said...

Everyone else's work spaces always look so organised and tidy. If it's an indication of what it says about you, then presumably mine indicates an untidy, cluttered, lazy, undisciplined and disorganised mind ...

Is the half full wine glass on your desk a sample of the pudding wine?

And thank you for the link to Skinit - just what I've been looking for!

Jennie Walters said...

Dan, I really enjoyed this post! I feel as though I know you now, even though we haven't met. I am in awe of your tidy desk, but it's so characterful as well - who cares if your walls are magnolia. Love all the artefacts and memorabilia (won't ask the story behind the Twilight mug). In fact I've just bought a little wooden/gilt figurine from the Oxfam shop, inspired by your wonderful room. At the moment I'm writing in the spare bedroom as it's the sunniest room in the house, but the only interesting object is a bucket because the roof has been leaking! Thanks for sharing this with us, and now I'm going to download one of your books for my thriller-loving husband...

julia jones said...

Thanks for the skinit link (maybe you should get a commission!)Different work places for different types of work. Well AWAY from the internet if trying to think! Currently in bill-paying / family management (ie homework computer) / cluttered office mode but turn around and there's a piano. Bye for now

Dan Holloway said...

I should state for the record 1. that the tidy desk is the result solely of the fact that I spent the first 2 days of the Christmas hols excavating, and 2. that there is a reason there are no pictures of thr floor :)

madwippitt - the glass contained some of the gorgeous Calvados you can see on the table (it's the very tallest bottle, with the broken red wax seal), brought back from Normandy a few years ago and still scrumptious!

Jennie - :))) Much as I love my Bolano and Kundera I do have a very weak spot for trash :)

Dan Holloway said...

Julia - my wife has a viola and an electric guitar for such moments!

Morgan Mandel said...

I used to write on a laptop computer when I commuted to my day job as a secretary, which I lost after 38 years.

Since then, I use a desktop computer on a nice desk I found in the days I did have a job. That desk of course doesn't have enough room for all my writing paraphernalia, so I found two less fancy cabinet type desks from rummage sales and put them on each side of the nicer desk.

I have tons of books on small shelves everywhere, yet spend most time reading from my kindle. I wish I could give away some of the books to the library, but haven't gotten around to reading them yet. Even without my day job, I can only read so much, along with writing and marketing my own books.

Morgan Mandel
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

Debbie said...

Last time I moved house, I warned Pickfords I had a lot of books. And when they came to do an estimate, they said "we didn't realise you meant that many." Which was a fraction of what I now have, even after a huge clearout of review books.

julia jones said...

LOVE my viola - please send her some special greeting (in the alto clef)

Dan Holloway said...

Morgan, I'm sorry to hear about your job (though I did think for a moment you had a 38 year-old laptop!) - I really hope you can make your books work to make up for the lost income.

I know that story, Debbie! No matter how much you say "there are lots of books" somehow they still have no actual comprehension of what that means!


Julia, how fabulous to meet another violist - my wife's username all over the internet is violamaths (she's currently doing an OU maths degree) - she'll being playing an arrangement of one Satie's Gymnopedies for electric viola at the event in Manchester this month. The alto clef reminds me of an incident when I was at work and saw something she'd tweeted about feeling altoclefish - as soon as I got home I asked her what kind of fish an altocle was.

Guernsey Girl said...

My office looks out over the back garden where I watch the seasons change, and this always seems to give me inspiration. The room is full of books, like yours Dan, including many about Guernsey where my latest historical novel is set. My prize possession is the portable typewriter my father gave me when I started work as a cub reporter on the local rag - it brings back so many memories...

Dan Holloway said...

There's something about the changing seasons - one of my favourite films is The Quince Tree Sun, which follows a man who paints the same tree as the seasons change. And Mondrian, of course, and his studies of trees in different seasons. Your typewriter sounds wonderful!

Ann Evans said...

Loved your post Dan and enjoyed seeing where you work. It is interesting isn't it, to see other writer's working environments. My working space at home is about to change as my daughter is moving into her own place. So from having my desk and computer squidged up next to my bed and knee-deep in books/boxes/papers etc to re-arranging her old bedroom and the spare room - meaning I can have a study - Yippee!! I'll miss her and the dog like mad but very excited about having a study at home and space to spread out.

Katherine Roberts said...

This post is so interesting, Dan, and I LOVE that laptop skin of your book cover! Yes, free advertising when you're out - yet personal, too.

(Just made a comment on Karen's post about Kindle skins... similar idea, I must try making one for mine.)

Dan Holloway said...

Ann, yes, there's something really nosey in all of us! Very best with the space move :)

Katherine - they are so easy to do, and arrive within a week.

Talking of desks, the Guardian currently has a fascinating series on writers' desktops - pictures of their computer screens

Dennis Hamley said...

Dan, what a great post. I think there should be a whole blog series about where we write. I've got something else to say on my blog tomorrow, but I reckon I'll do one next time.

About Tokai (or Tokay, as the book in question spells it). Did anyone see the film Dean Spanley over Christmas? Best thing on TV. It's positively fuelled by Tokay. And so is the book it came from. I didn't know the film was based on a novella by Lord Dunsany. So I bought it on Kindle and it is a DELIGHT. And the screen play is printed with it. A great example of how to adapt into a wonderful narrative what is essentially a conversation piece. Brilliantly acted by, among others equally stellar, Sam Neill and Peter O'Toole.

Marvellous, delicate, happy, subtle and thought-provoking works. Just like the Tokay (or Tokai).

Dan Holloway said...

I didn't Dennis, no, but someone else has recommended it to me so I'll make sure I find it - I love both Sam Neill and Peter O'Toole.

Greatly look forward to seeing your desk!

Dennis Hamley said...

OK, Dan, I'll get Kay to photograph me sitting at it for my next blog. Actually, I'm rather proud of it. When I moved into my flat in October 2006 I treated myself to a fitted desk, workstation and bookshelves - a complete, purpose-built study. It looked beautiful when it was done and I've no doubt that, under the chaos on top,it still is. It's in what was intended as (and in emergencies still is) a third bedroom. Kay is an artist and her studio, about 4ft square, is at the other end of the rather long, narrow room, where the light through a full-length window and a French door onto the balcony makes up for the postage-stamp size.

Dan Holloway said...

marvellous!