Where I Write: Sarah Urwin Jones
I once thought that I would write more or better if I had my own room to write in, as Virginia Woolf said. Having once turned an actual cupboard into a ‘study’ that I could only enter by climbing over the back of the chair and scraping my legs slowly under my ‘desk’ (a plywood shelf), I am strongly aware that any such room – if that luxury be within one’s reach – ought never measure less than 3ft by 3ft.
It should all have been perfect, yet I rarely wrote there
When I moved into a marginally bigger flat, whose hall cupboard was – perhaps fortunately – already occupied by both a freezer and a boiler, I plumped for a desk in the living room between the pram, the clothes horse and the bookshelves. I hung pictures above the desk, lined up useful books along the rear edge, propped up postcards and photos and the odd bit of fossicked ephemera. It should all have been perfect, yet I rarely wrote there. Perhaps it was the weight of expectation. Perhaps it was the awful choice of location. Perhaps it was the exhaustion of new parenthood. But the domestic flotsam piled up on its surface more readily than words on the page.
I dreamed of libraries, particularly the quiet reference kind with ornate ceilings or fabulous double-height bookstacks, trundling book trolleys and book request forms. I dreamed, too, of a ‘Roald Dahl’ writing shed, but ours was full of recalcitrant spiders and towering ziggurats of plastic plant pots. I tried writing in a cafe once, but felt so anxious about the rate at which I was or wasn’t drinking my tea that I nearly burnt my tongue.
And then it came to me, as I lay propped up on the sofa one evening in a familiar but manageable state of exhaustion, shoehorning in writing whilst the kids slept, my laptop propped up somewhat precariously on a cushion, having just pressed ‘send’ on my New Writers Award application. This was my ‘room’ and that was ok. Any posture, any location, getting words on a page. It was something of an epiphany.
Because aside from all the other wonderful things parenthood brings, it also brings a sense of the worth of time. Grasp what time you can, when you can, around the bustle of family – or other – life.
Grasp what time you can, when you can, around the bustle of family – or other – life.
Give me a few hours, tucked in bed just north of horizontal in the early mornings on those occasions when someone else is free to make breakfast and find missing socks. Give me the rare half hour with my thoughts in the raucous bustle of the busy canteen of the kids’ weekend music school, a slim horizontal window at the top of the dining hall showing a sliver of leaf and sky, the sound of music faint along the corridor. Give me all these things, give me a distant view of trees if you’re feeling generous, and I am away.
I am writing this now as midnight seeps into the early hours, huddled in another ‘room’ in front of the fire in a rather more upright position than usual – the sofa having currently been turned into a sailing ship, with full rigging and supplies for a trip round Cape Horn. The chair might not be the most comfortable, but I can’t lie down at this hour or I’ll be asleep.
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