In defiance of a room of one’s own: My writing life


I am writing this blog post in a café which lets me sit here for hours, writing, paying my dues with cups of tea, coffee, occasionally lunch. It is helpful for me to do this for I have learnt that I cannot write from home even when my children are not there.

There are reminders of them everywhere; toys, little shoes, forever a load of laundry to be done or else clothes upon a radiator still too damp to fold away. But of course, it is not about them; it is about me. These small reminders of motherhood stop me in my tracks and I fail to think of all the other things I might be, namely a writer.

I had always thought that I needed a room of my own in which to write. We were lucky enough to have inherited a glorified shed at the bottom of our garden from the previous owners, a small office with electricity and wifi. Initially I had claimed this as my own, as if this was all I needed to inspire creativity in me. But at the risk of sounding terribly spoilt, it bores me because it yet again serves to remind me of my domesticity. There is a an extra, adult-sized fridge which hums beside the desk, holding all the extra milk and yoghurt and what not the collective appetite of our children requires. Behind the desk: shelves stacked neatly with boxes of hand-me-downs and bags of toys no longer used waiting to be taken to the charity shop. In here, I feel like a small animal in a cage; stuck staring at the walls. This summer I created the set-up you may see above in our bedroom, consisting of a temporary fold-away desk in our bedroom, the idea being that I might write there while my husband took care of the kids. But this too was not quite right; there were little children forever coming in, thumping like heavy-footed bunnies through the floorboards above.

You might argue my immediate surroundings do not matter, that my whole purpose as a writer is to somehow escape my reality. That this is all an excuse, an elaborate design in writer’s procrastination. You might be right and perhaps a better writer than me would not struggle. But it appears my imagination needs freeing in order for it to fly.

And so I’ve become a wandering nomad of sorts. On the days I am lucky enough to spend hours writing, I settle at tables in corners and overhear conversations (today, an older sister advising her younger brother who is no longer in love with his girlfriend that he needs to end it, now) and it is this humdrum soundtrack of the lives of others that takes me into another place. People come to life as I type. I am both alone but not alone. I have never written so productively.

I wrote my first book while pregnant with my first child and have been writing my second book since last year and now I am tentatively weaving a third, I think. None of it has been easy. All of it has been hard. Almost all of it has been on stolen time. Writing is romanticised - all too often I am told that I am lucky to be a writer because I can write around my children, as if it is a lifestyle choice, as easy as that - but of course, it's not like that at all.

I have no room of my own in which to write and even if I did, I am not sure sitting in the same place doing battle with myself would work. So I shall carry on being the nomad I am, sitting in small cafés, observing the world a little so that I might magic my own small ones, conjure them up out of thin air.

I had wanted so badly to beat Cyril Connolly’s aphorism that “There is no more somber enemy of good art than the pram in the hall” and while it pains me to quote him, a man passing judgement on the lack of creativity of those of us who happen to be mothers, it occurs to me that possibly, just possibly, he might have been a little bit right. Doris Lessing left her marriage and children in order to write and of course I am hardly suggesting that, but I also think that some distance from our daily lives in order to write productively is not necessarily a bad thing. It works for me, is all.