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Monday, 20 February 2012

The rescued desk - where do you write? Roz Morris



My desk is an old dining table. It has been with my husband longer than I have.

He didn’t acquire it by choice. Years before I met him his mother found it by a skip. She delivered it to Dave ‘in case he’d find it useful’. He didn’t, because he didn’t need two dining tables. So he put it in the box room. Then I moved in.

I was a private scribbler, a manic creative. The box room became my study and the table my playground, with a computer and a litter of notes. Short stories, a tinkered-with novel, naive submissions. Gradually commissions happened. My prose left the house as printouts and disks and returned as proofs and then real books.

The table and I had become serious.

It was not a lovely beast. Not just because of the haloes from hot mugs, the cigarette burns and the grooves from children’s scribbles. I’ve never seen wood that looked so like Formica. I sanded and painted the top, in a paler tone of the smoky lilac on the walls. The table’s legs were neither substantial nor retro spindly. But painted black they became svelte stilettos. Dave made me bookcases, also in black.

There isn’t much else in the room. In one corner is a Nepalese cushion, to be used for reading and for plotting out books on index cards. The cushion is a hypnotic-looking mandala with red tasselled corners. (Tasteful neutrals make me cross.)

Beside the monitor is a stack of CDs, chosen to witch up characters, places and scene moods for works in progress. Pens are crammed in a box that once held Laurent Perrier champagne. Leads and USB drives live in a distractingly hip Michael Kors sunglasses case (a charity shop treasure). Something, one day, will find a home in the tiny cylindrical box inscribed with the word Pride. Papers, cards and a quill from a pheasant’s tail sit in a wooden chest - a gift from a friend who died one Christmas in a car crash.

Between these fixtures are notes. Pictures, too, of random strangers I’d cast as my characters.

At the moment there are five or six books evolving on that desk. If you took a stop-motion film you would see them multiply, spread and vanish like the seasons.

Like the narrator of my novel I’m a martyr to RSI. If Dave has to sort out a problem with my computer he curses the kneeling chair, the joystick mouse and the gusseted ergonomic keyboard.

The computers have come and gone. Relics gather, CDs and notes arrive and leave. But the foundling desk has been under it all from the start, through much discovery and the paperdrift of many books. And here it still is. I think it might even be older than I am.

Where do you write?

Roz Morris is a bestselling ghostwriter and book doctor. She blogs at www.nailyournovel.com and has a double life on Twitter; for writing advice follow her as @dirtywhitecandy, for more normal chit-chat try her on @ByRozMorris.

As well as being the secret author of many titles, she has two books written as herself: Nail Your Novel - Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence, and a novel My Memories of a Future Life. You can listen to an audio of the first 4 chapters of the novel here.

14 comments:

julia jones said...

My suspicion is that old desks survive so long because the horror of clearing all that has accumulated on top is simply too great. I was trying to think of a posh term - opposite of the 'tabula rasa' (the blank sheet) - tabula impedimentia' maybe. Yours is doing sterling service as you share your experience so generously. Long live the laden desk.

madwippitt said...

So not fair to have such a small picture of your bookcases - how are we supposed to browse the shelves?!!! Close up please!

dirtywhitecandy said...

@Julia - ho ho, tabula impedimenta! It's a pretty solid thing, that desk. Obviously it was nowhere near ready to give up the ghost.
@madwhippitt - Those shelves you can see are but a snippet of our collection. My study is generally the fiction section, except for SF and short stories, which are upstairs in the bedroom, and MG and YA, which is in the room next door.
To ease your curiosity, here's a quick tour of the shelves in that picture. F
iction A-Z in the black shelves (starts on extreme left of pic). Far bottom right shelf, work-in-progress shelf for the next big novel. Middle strip of white shelves are Shakespeare plays, memoirs I have to have in my study because the writers are adorable, horse books (you can just about see the horseshoe in front of them). The mahogany-coloured box on the 5th shelf is the complete National Geographic, and Dave would like me to point out I broke the lid. Bottom shelf is World War I books for a WIP of Dave's, and quite why those have to be in my study I don't know.
There are more shelves behind where I sit, all reference (you can see dictionaries in the pic) and WIP shelves.

Kathleen Jones said...

My partner rescued an old pattern-making table out of a cotton mill that was being demolished, years before he met me. But my great grandfather worked as a pattern-maker in that mill before it closed. Gives me a strange feeling every time I sit down to work at it - as I'm doing now!

dirtywhitecandy said...

Kathleen, that's a fabulous story. What a connection. How long was it before you found out?

L.S. Engler said...

So fabulous to know that I'm not the only one using a kitchen table for my writing desk. Granted, our kitchen table is our ONLY kitchen table, but that's another story. Thanks for sharing your writing space, Roz! It definitely looks and feels inspiring!

Daniel R. Marvello said...

One of the reasons my wife and I bought the house we currently have is because of it's layout; it is a three bedroom log house with a daylight basement.

Our plan from the beginning was to turn the two downstairs bedrooms into offices, since we have both consulted/telecommuted since 1995. We "go to work" downstairs in the morning and head back upstairs to "go home" in the evening.

We had dual-workstation desks and cabinetry built into three walls of each office, creating giant U-shaped work areas with tons of surface area and storage room (mostly covered/filled, of course.) The last remaining wall naturally has bookshelves.

Each office has one large window that looks out on our "back yard." The back yard is 40 acres of North Idaho: dense forest, rocky ridges, and riparian meadow. Granted, the tall cedar and hemlock trees behind our home obscure my view of most of that. But I know it's there, and the trails I've laboriously cleared throughout the property take me to every corner of it.

In other words, I literally write from a log home nestled in a forest in the middle of nowhere. It's a writer's dream come true, if you like solitude and quiet.

dirtywhitecandy said...

@LS - ho ho, at least you're close to the coffee!
@Daniel - what a lovely picture you paint there. When I see a comment from you now I shall picture you in mission control. Especially your back yard. I'm in London, so I look out a raod, cars and houses!

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Lovely post! I do my real writing upstairs on a big old desk acquired from my son's ex-music teacher - and I keep it obsessively, ferociously tidy otherwise I can't work. There's a view of the garden and nearby cottages and the woods beyond that and it's beautiful but distracting. In windy weather it's chilly and the window rattles. However, high above me, on a long shelf are all those files and boxes of old work: plays, stories, poems, novels. Last year I found a novel up there that I had completely forgotten I had ever written - although I remembered writing the radio series that inspired it. I read the first few pages and thought 'this seems quite good!' I don't think I had ever sent it out anywhere! Clearing that shelf is supposed to be on this year's agenda. You never know - I might find something worth publishing up there.

CjEggett said...

Always nice to see a "lair"! For first drafts I use a laptop and just find wherever is quiet/comfortable. For editing however I use the study as it offers me a couple of screens for comparison. This is clutter central (possibly why I don't work as well here actually!)

Fun thing I wrote when warming up for NaNoWriMo 2011: http://cjeggett.co.uk/post/11033653037/5-places-i-would-like-to-write-my-nanowrimo-from-this

dirtywhitecandy said...

Catherine, I'm imagining your desk as handsome, heavy and full of history - undoubtedly as a result of reading your recent post. And what treasure to find on your shelf. Who knows what else is there too?
CJ, what an interesting MO. I really like that idea of finding somewhere new to be alone with a fledgeling book.

George Fripley said...

I write most of my material by hand either, on the bus on the way to work, in a cafe, on a comfortable bench in the park at lunchtimes...and sometimes on the couch...but I tend to have the ideas ciruclating in my head at all hours of the day and my notebook stays with me at all times. I wrote the first chapter of my current work in the foyer of a city office block - where the chairs were really comfortable.

If I ever get stuck I simply look up and watch people...it never takes long to find inspiration.

And finally there is the cluttered study where the hand-writing is typed in and the first real edit takes place.

dirtywhitecandy said...

George, your description of writing in the wilds is so beguiling I might try it when I need to work out some ideas. I once had a great time writing a short story while in the audience of a literary event - I started with a brief note and it snowballed!

Jo Merchant said...

Thanks for sharing Roz, I love seeing other people's creative spaces.
I long for the day when I can have a separate room to do my writing in, until then its the cluttered desk in the alcove of my bedroom with walls covered in strips of wallpaper liner, notes and photos. However, the Piccadilly line and the front seat on the upper deck of the N29 or 141 bus has yielded some promising material lately.