Heaven and hell – where writers love to write

Thinking about the centenary of Dylan Thomas, which is being celebrated this year, led me also to consider where writers like to write.

Thomas had a nice little writing shed by the waters of the River Taf in Laugharne in Wales which looks like a lovely place to get on with some writing.

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A shed with a view suited Dylan Thomas.

It’s very close to The Boat House where he lived, which is now a Thomas museum, but far enough away to give some separation and peace and quiet, although the scenery could be distracting.

Scottish farmer and self-published crime novelist James Oswald seems to get even further away as he’s pictured with his laptop among his sheep in a field in Fife. You can’t bleat about being unable to get on with your writing in that situation.

James Oswald is in a field of his own.
James Oswald is in a field of his own.

However, it appears that Oswald, who is now a big seller signed up with Penguin, really writes in a caravan inside a Dutch barn at night-time accompanied by a collection of dogs and cats. It’s got to beat one of his previous occupations as a professional Sheep Shit Sampler (apparently a real job).

Oswald’s novels combine genre with crime and the supernatural, which led to publishers, who just do not seem to like cross-genre, rejecting his efforts initially before coming to their senses when they realised he had sold 350,000 self-published books. He’s also crossed into another genre with an epic fantasy trilogy, The Ballad of Sir Benfro.

Ernest Hemingway is famous for concise prose and standing while he wrote, I wonder if the two are connected. His workplaces included a tower in a house in Havana and he liked to start out writing in pencil before committing his work to the typewriter.

Many writers like to get out into the hurly burly and lug their laptops into parks and cafes but that probably wouldn’t have been very good for John Cheever who dressed up smartly in a suit in his apartment every morning before descending to the basement where he took his suit off and wrote in his shorts. Quite appropriate really, as he was famous for short stories after all.

However, while some writers are inspired by idyllic landscapes, Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn knocks out her novels after braving a “Hell Pit”.

She says her office where she writes is reached by going through “An unfinished basement straight out of The Silence of the Lambs, cracked cement floor, strangely stained stone walls, dripping sinks, a scattering of ancient tools.”

There are also those who like to write on the move. American trains have always had some romance about them so it’s not a big surprise that some authors write while riding the rails.

This fact was brought to the attention of Amtrak recently by writer Alexander Chee and the company seized on it and launched a Writers Residency Program offering free tickets to take a train trip. However, Amtrak seem to have messed up a good idea with terms and conditions that some are viewing as a potential rights grab.

It led to an epiphany for myself when I realised that my ideal spot for writing is on a plane, way up above the clouds. Perhaps American Airlines (or any airline at all) might be interested in my excellent idea for a writer’s residency, involving a couple of free, anywhere-in-the-world tickets (first class would be nice but business would suffice)?

Interview with James Oswald on the Scottish TV website.

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