I recently visited the Boathouse in Laugharne. I'd been there before, and peered into Dylan Thomas' Writing Shed, but this time I was with my friend, the artist Julia Griffiths Jones http://www.juliagriffithsjones.co.uk, and she'd been inside! She had been allowed to go into the shed to draw. When she showed me the drawings that she had made there, and the photographs that she had taken, I must admit to being gripped by a strange excitement and considerable envy. There is something about the place where a writer works that exerts a peculiar fascination. Just to see what he or she had on the desk by way of distraction or because a particular object was special in some way; to see the pictures pinned up on the wall; the view, or lack of it from the window. These things serve to bring alive some of the process of mind that produced the work that one admires.
|In Dylan Thomas' writing shed - Julia Griffiths-Jones|
I had come to love the words of them. The words alone. What the words stood for was of a very secondary importance.
But this list showed that his poems were hard won. He had to prepare, work at them, think about what appeared on the page. What seems natural, effortless is supremely crafted and writing is a hard and lonely process, as he describes it in My Craft or Sullen Art.
|word splashed hut - Julia Griffiths- Jones|
In my craft or sullen art Exercised in the still night When only the moon rages And the lovers lie abed With all their griefs in their arms, I labor by singing light Not for ambition or bread Or the strut and trade of charms On the ivory stages But for the common wages Of their most secret heart.
Here, on his table, was a little bit of that crafting. I don't know where he wrote the poem but from his shed window he would certainly have had an unimpeded view of the moon over the Taf estuary and the wide sweep of Carmarthen Bay. Just seeing these things brought the poet nearer, as though time and space were collapsing and death, indeed, had no dominion.
I can't claim a shed myself, my garden just isn't big enough, but I will admit to shed envy. There are quite a few writers who work in a shed, or have worked in a shed. Philip Pullman famously wrote his Northern Lights Trilogy in a shed at the bottom of his garden in Oxford.
|Philip Pullman's Shed|
|Roald Dahl's Shed|
Roald Dahl was another famous shed man. Again, I can feel the pull, the fascination of the table carpeted in objects, collected bits and pieces: fossils, model aeoroplanes, and the tools of a writer's trade: pens, pencils, scissors. The walls are covered in pictures, photographs, postcards pinned up, curling and interleaved - put up as aide memoire or inspiration. The touch telephone, so modern once, so dated now, gives a feeling of time stopped at the moment when Dahl left, never to return, the point when the building ceased to be a vibrant creative space and returned to being just a shed. A trace of him remains, though, caught and contained in the things he gathered about him.
Writers are often elusive creatures, rarely showing their true nature, wanting their writing to speak for them, but these glimpses into their private place allow us a rare insight into who they were. There is an eloquence to the space, it speaks to us of the writers' true nature.
Sheds are not just a male preserve. There are shed women, too. Virginia Woolf is perhaps the most notable example, although hers is, perhaps, more of a summer house.
And there is, of course, our own Linda Newbery who used to work in this elegant little number, complete with a Virginia style verandah, although she tells me that she is shed-less at the moment.
Linda also warned that having a shed comes with certain risks. The writer and journalist, Francis Wheen, recently lost his archive, his book collection and the novel he was working on in a disastrous shed fire. Even with that warning, I still feel the pangs of Shed Envy. Maybe, one day, until then I'll have to make do with a study. The important thing is to have, as Virginia Woolf says, a room of one's own.
Shed or shed-less? Where do you write? What do you have around you? I'd love to know....