|Credit Roger Smeeton|
Not all writers have a room of their own, of course, and not all writers would even want one. Jane Austen famously wrote at a tiny table in the sitting room of her family’s cottage at Chawton, with a squeaky door to alert her to the approach of visitors, so that she could sweep her papers away before she was spotted. You can still see the table (it really is tiny) and try out the door, although it doesn’t squeak any more. People have written – and continue to write – in trains and buses and aeroplanes and boats, as well as libraries and bedrooms, kitchen tables and coffee shops – and in war zones and secret hideouts, lest we forget our good fortune.
It’s easy to scoff at writers who say they can only write under certain conditions, just as it’s easy to look enviously at writers whose gracious studies house mahogany desks and look out on a London park or a windswept piece of moorland – to think the first lot should get real, and that we too could write a masterpiece in the second lot’s shoes.
I don’t think you need a mahogany desk, but I think there’s something important about creating a space to write in – about clearing a space, at least, not just physically but in our minds. We are certainly creatures of habit, and we tend to fall into routines and patterns which I suspect increase our productivity. Some people can write literally anywhere, but for others their environment matters more. Some people thrive on having life going on around them and get twitchy if it’s too quiet, but others need peace and quiet.
There’s no prescription here; it’s very much a matter of preference, and indeed of practicalities. If you’ve got a baby who sleeps for half an hour in the middle of the day, and you’re desperate to use that time to write, you’re unlikely to be precious about setting things up just-so before you grab a pen or switch on your laptop. But then, perhaps grabbing the right pen, sitting down in the right chair, helps to take you from baby-zone into writing-zone: perhaps it’s worth a few minutes to set things up in the right way to clear your mind? And if time is on your side but focus and concentration are not, then creating a space that helps you write is all too important. Like the rituals that ensure well-trained babies (unlike mine) go peacefully to sleep at night, going through preliminaries like making a cup of tea – or perhaps picking a few flowers to keep by your computer – might settle you into the right frame of mind for creative thought.
And props can be important, too. I like having photographs of the places – sometimes even the people – I’m writing about to hand. I like having the right mug for my coffee, one I bought in Italy and keep for myself. Maybe a favourite ornament or a beautiful pebble helps you feel positive and stay focussed. Maybe a picture of your children looking joyful reassures you that it’s OK to stop thinking about them for a bit. Anything that makes you smile, that lifts your spirits, that carries you away from the domestic chaos around you and lets you feel like a writer, can do at least part of the work of a room of your own. In the end, it’s having room in your mind to write that really matters.
An elite surgeon with a brilliant but philandering husband, Flora Macintyre has always defined herself by her success in juggling her career and her marriage. Until, all at once, she finds herself with neither.
Retired and widowed in the space of a few months, Flora is left untethered. In a moment of madness, she realises there's nothing to stop her running away to France.
But back home her two daughters - the family she's always loved, but never had the time to nurture - are struggling. Lou is balancing pregnancy with a crumbling relationship, while her younger sister, Kitty, begins to realise she may have to choose between love and her growing passion for music.
And even as the family try to pull together, one dark secret could still tear them all apart...