Friday, October 18, 2013

Famous Writers' Writing Sheds

     I ended last week's Blog post with this: Books and Boards reflect a deep-seated desire to have a secluded, away-from-the-room-filled-with-distractions in which I currently write. Authors of every stripe have or have had their version of a "writer's cave," and for the same reasons I hold for myself. 

     Allow me, in today's post (a post or two will continue this theme), to give a small tour of some of the more famous writers' writing sheds. As I've gleaned sources and images, I see mussed and fussed pages, notepads, and open books strewn on tables, adjacent surfaces, even floors. Their desks, much like my own, lean toward cluttered. In some, there are the rudiments of humanity––radios, ashtrays, cigarette packs, pets, framed pictures, and typewriters. 
     While some writers chose to set up shop abroad to immerse themselves in an undistracted world of prose or poetry, their choices often overlooked vistas of the Alps or vineyards surroundingTuscan villas or perhaps a castle or two. A few set up camp in hotel rooms.
     The writers I'm spotlighting in this and forthcoming posts, and their deified writing huts or sheds, are or were near at hand to each other. Their quaint and simple structures could be reached by a worn path or a short walk from the main house. Crucial to them was the sense of ease, the lifting of a creative web, the necessity of being near to their writing labors. 

Michael Pollan
Michael Pollan's book A Place of My Own is the story of how he built a tiny writing hut for himself in the woods behind his Connecticut house. As he writes on the first page, "Is there anybody who hasn't at one time or another wished for such a place, hasn't turned those soft words over until they'd assumed a habitable shape? What they propose, to anyone who admits them into the space of a daydream, is a place of solitude a few steps off the beaten track of everyday life."Pollan turns his sharp insight to the craft of building, as he recounts the process of designing and constructing a small one-room structure on his rural Connecticut property—a place in which he hoped to read, write and daydream, built with his two own unhandy hands.
Roald Dahl
(Quentin Blake, children's author and illustrator)
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.
Roald Dahl's writing roomThe 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.

Mark Twain's writing hut is currently situated on the campus of Elmira College in Elmira, NY.
"It is the loveliest study you ever saw...octagonal with a peaked roof, each face filled with a spacious window...perched in complete isolation on the top of an elevation that commands leagues of valley and city and retreating ranges of distant blue hills. It is a cozy nest and just room in it for a sofa, table, and three or four chairs, and when the storms sweep down the remote valley and the lightening flashes behind the hills beyond and the rain beats upon the roof over my head—imagine the luxury of it." - Mark Twain, in a letter to William Dean Howells, 1874

Michael Pollan asks it best, "Is there anybody who hasn't at one time or another wished for such a place...?"