A Room of One's Own
A Room of One's Own, III

A Room of One's Own, II

Hemingway's study in CubaErnest Hemingway's study at Finca Vigía (Lookout Farm) in Cuba

"What was it Hemingway asked for -- a clean, well-lighted place? We cannot all afford a farm in Cuba or a suite at the George V in newly liberated Paris, and more often than not must strive to forge our clean, well-lighted sentences at a folding table wedged between the baby's cot and the dining table. In one of his cramped refuges the exile Vladimir Nabokov had to work in the bath, with a wooden board placed across the top to hold his famous sheaves of bristol file cards. A far cry from Thomas Mann's and Evelyn Waugh's leather-topped desks and foot-long cigars. We all yearn in our hearts to be Larkin's 'shit in the shuttered chateau,' but few of us achieve that grand apotheosis. How I envy writers who can work on aeroplanes or in hotel rooms. On the run I can produce an article or a book review, or even a film script, but for fiction I must have my own desk, my own wall with my own postcards pinned to it, and my own window not to look out of. "  - John Banville

How important is the physical space you work in to you and your creative process? Do you thrive best in "A Room of Ones Own," or prefer a couch, a cafe, a library carrel, an easel on a hillside, or some other space? For young mythic writers/artists/scholars/etc.: where do you work now, and what kind of space would you like to create for yourself in the future? For older artists, what was the best work space you ever had, and why?

The photographs below show workspaces of well-established artists -- in some cases, no doubt, tidied up for the camera. (You'll find the photo captions, as always, by placing your cursor over the pictures.) These images make me long to see the "before" and "after" -- the earliest work spaces of these writers and artists as well as the ones created after professional success.

The question today is: How important is the space itself to the work?

John Banville's studY

Joan  Miró's studio

"I think of my studio as a vegetable garden, where things follow their natural course. They grow, they ripen. You have to graft. You have to water. " - Joan Miró

"I thought the only way you can get into things is ... through the basement ... exactly where my studio was ... I could creep upstairs and snatch at things, and bring them down with me ... where I could munch away at them."  - Paula Rego

Paula Rego at work in her London studio

Marina Warner's room

"I used to write in a burrow downstairs, and moving up into the roof and light and air lifted me and my writing, or at least it felt so. I think of the room less as a retreat than a crow's nest, because the wind sings around it."  - Marina Warner

"My room is at the top of the house up two flights of stairs, which is very useful as people have to think before they disturb you. I've worked here for 42 years and written all my books and done all my illustrations here. For most of that time my husband, Nigel Kneale, worked next door. It was useful because we could pop into each other's room when one of us had a bad moment. We seemed to come to a stop for lunch at more or less the same moment. It was a very good time; I was very lucky. He used to tell me about the plays he was going to write, and I used to show him my pictures. Sometimes he'd say 'isn't that child's head too big?' and he was always right. But he always liked them, otherwise it would have been rather awful."  - Judith Kerr

Judith Kerr's studio

J.G. Ballard's writing room

"My room is dominated by the huge painting, which is a copy of The Violation by the Belgian surrealist Paul Delvaux. The original was destroyed during the Blitz in 1940, and I commissioned an artist I know, Brigid Marlin, to make a copy from a photograph. I never stop looking at this painting and its mysterious and beautiful women. Sometimes I think I have gone to live inside it and each morning I emerge refreshed.... I have worked at this desk for the past 47 years. All my novels have been written on it, and old papers of every kind have accumulated like a great reef. The chair is an old dining-room chair that my mother brought back from China and probably one I sat on as a child, so it has known me for a very long time." - J.G. Ballard

"Although I was seduced by the idea of the need for a room of one's own, it is the atmosphere of a place, rather than somewhere unique and private, that matters most. As I've got older, I realise all I need is a view, light and to be up high.... I use the tiny laptop on my desk for novels only -- no email, no journalism, no internet, no administration -- and I hoard only books and paintings relevant to the project I'm working on." - Kate Mosse

Kate Mosse's writing room

Nicola Barker's writing desk

"I've never had a study -- never really needed one. I like to work in the middle of things, so my desk is in the far corner of my livingroom, pressed up against the kitchen cabinets. I have a beautiful view of the river but I rarely turn to look at it. I'm very focused when I work. I wear a pair of industrial earmuffs, even though I'm partially deaf and don't really need them. I love the gushing silence they provide and the pressure of them against my head. My desk is my camp, my small launch, my treehouse. I got the carpenter who made it to cut a small indentation into the table part, so I could slot right into it. It's made from some old stairs. And it has loads of little cupboards in front full of interesting stuff - letters and rosary beads, faulty discs, stickers and whatnot. As I work, my dog, Watson, insists on positioning himself under my chair. He's a terrifying mixture of needy and companionable. He groans a lot, and sighs expressively. I suspend my feet on a shelf built under the desk. My chair has a little arch cut into it just big enough for him to slot his head through. If I move unexpectedly he's almost decapitated."  - Nicola Barker

"Anyone who works at home needs a refuge from the rest of the household, as far from the house as possible, and definitely without a phone. Mine is in one corner of the garden, overlooking a vegetable patch and young orchard, and I feel great happiness in it. I am hassled only by the cat -- a catflap would reduce the inconvenience."  - Louis de Bernières

Louis de Bernières' writing shed

Michael Morpurgo's writing bed

"For many years, I wrote on our bed in the house. But there were complaints about ink on the sheets, dirty feet on the bed, and we felt we should try to create somewhere else, a storyteller's house. Clare, my wife designed it -- it's based on the Anglo-Saxon chapel of St Peter-Ad-Murum at Bradwell-juxta-Mare in Essex, where I grew up, but it has a Devon thatched roof, a Japanese garden and an uninterrupted view of the countryside, looking towards Dartmoor. So there I have made my writing bed."  - Michael Morpurgo

"I don't really have studios. I wander around people's attics, out in fields, in cellars, anyplace I find that invites me." - Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth's studio

Ides of March by Andrew Wyeth

"I don't have a writing room, and don't want one. I've never written successfully at a desk - whenever anyone tries to give me a desk, it always fills up immediately with old bits of paper, and, after a week or two, I go back to writing on the end of the dining table, clearing it all up before dinner. Or, more often, just on the arm of the sofa.... I know perfectly well that if I ever found myself with a grand study with a view over the trees - if I ever started retiring to my study after breakfast to perform my daily 1,000 words - that would be the end of it. A sofa, a notebook, and the promise to yourself that in a couple of hours you can put Radio 4 on - that's just the ticket." - Philip Hensher

"Here I am, where I ought to be. A writer must have a place where he or she feels this, a place to love and be irritated with."  - Louise Erdrich

Your thoughts?

Painting by John F. Petro, 1885

Some of the quotes and photographs here come from the Guardian's series on writers' rooms. I also recommend the Tumblr site Write Place, Write Time,  The Lure of the Writer's Cabin in The New York Times, and the website Writer's Houses.

Comments